The exhibition “Ray Safford, Rare Bookman,” which opened yesterday at the Grolier Club, New York City, offers a look into the famed New York firm of Charles Scribner’s Sons and the literary, publishing, and rare book worlds in turn-of-the-century New York. Ray Safford was a consummate bibliophile and book collector, whose entire career and life revolved around books and Scribner’s.
Safford joined Scribner’s in the 1880s when the business was on Broadway, and became life-long close friends with two other young men there – Frank Nelson Doubleday, later the renowned publisher, and Edward W. Bok, the noted editor and author. Safford stayed with Scribner’s and by 1912 was in charge of the retail operation. Safford knew Scribner authors and illustrators including Eugene Field, Maxfield Parrish, Henry van Dyke, Oliver Herford, and Howard Pyle, all represented in the exhibit by letters or inscribed books. Through Doubleday and Bok he had contact with people such as Joseph Conrad and Rudyard Kipling. Ray Safford retired in 1928.
Over more than four decades, Ray Safford’s work in Scribner’s gave him unusual connections with people ranging from author Joseph Conrad and illustrator Arthur Burdett Frost to robber baron Henry Clay Frick, publisher Frank Nelson Doubleday, Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Lewis Carroll.
The exhibit presents letters, manuscripts, bookplates, photographs, inscribed books, and books with drawings added to them. Highlights include a letter to Safford from Arthur Burdett Frost (the illustrator of two Lewis Carroll books, but best known as the illustrator of Uncle Remus) describing his difficulties with Carroll (“the fussiest little man I ever met”); a pencil drawing of Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby by Frost in a copy of Uncle Remus; a Mark Twain letter to his publisher James Osgood encouraging publication of a eulogy Twain found, describing it as “the finest thing American lips have uttered, except Mr. Lincoln’s Gettysburg speech”; a typescript of an unpublished Kipling poem with Safford’s notation about Kipling’s wish that the poem never be published; and May Safford’s charming story of their 1923 visit in England with the Conrads.
“Ray Safford, Rare Bookman” will be on exhibit at the Grolier Club of New York, 47 East 60th Street, from February 16 through April 13, 2012. Gallery hours are Monday through Saturday, 10am to 5pm. Open to the public free of charge.