The Legacy of Florence Walter: Celebrating a Century at the Book Club of California

The Legacy of Florence Walter:
 Celebrating a Century at the BCC
April 29-September 2, 2013

Free and open to the public during Book Club hours
Monday 10-7; Tuesday-Friday, 10-5

The Legacy of Florence Walter features forty-five fine design bindings that Walter’s family has treasured for many decades. Her working sketches, photographs, keepsakes, and other printed ephemera supplement the portrait of Florence Walter as a matriarch and hand bookbinder.
At the opening, Professor Henry Snyder, OBE, introduced the exhibition and the grandchildren who have made it possible; they offered reminiscences of Florence and the family.

Book Club of California

Professor Henry Snyder presenting at the opening reception of the Florence Walter exhibit.

Born in 1884, Florence Walter began binding in 1934, and soon became one of the most prominent French-style binders in America. Especially choice is her unique binding of James Joyce’s Ulysses, illustrated by Henri Matisse and published by the Limited Editions Club in 1935. Another wonderful volume is her dramatic binding of Henry Miller’s Into the Night Life (1947), personally inscribed by the author to her.
Upon her death in 1972, Walter’s family donated the contents of her studio—including some 500 finishing tools and a book pressas well as 300 books on binding & paper—to Mills College. Her work was shown at Mills in 1973 and at the Legion of Honor in 1976. The family retained her many bindings, which are now on exhibit (through August) at the Book of California for the first time in nearly forty years.

Book Club of California

The Legacy of Florence Walter features forty-five fine design bindings that Walter’s family has treasured for many decades.

Florence, née Schwartz, married into the Walter family in 1907. Her husband, John Walter (1879–1930), was prominent in downtown retail and was an important figure in the San Francisco Art Association and the California School of the Arts, now the San Francisco Art Institute. His brother, Edgar (1878–1938), was a sculptor whose work can be seen on the proscenium arch of the San Francisco Opera. In the wake of the Panama-Pacific Exposition of 1915, he designed a bronze plaque for the life members of The Book Club of California; the originals of these can be seen at the entrance to the Club.
Florence herself was an important bibliophile, a great patron of the Grabhorn Press; she joined the Club in 1913 and was both the first woman on its Board and its first woman president (1952–1955). In 1951, she commissioned Wurster-Bernardi to build a house at 2745 Larkin, on the north crest of Russian Hill overlooking Ghirardelli Square and Alcatraz. Her bindery was a notable and wonderful feature of this home.
Kathleen Burch & John McBride, Exhibition Curators

Kathleen Burch at BCC

Kathleen Burch at the Book Club of California

Book Club of California

John McBride at the Book Club of California

The exhibition at the Book Club of California is possible thanks to the splendid gift of fourteen of Walter’s bindings, donated by three of her grandchildren: Paul A. Bissinger, Jr., Peggy Pressman, and Tom Bissinger (the children of Marjorie and Paul A. Bissinger, Sr.). Paul Bissinger’s gift also includes additional printed ephemera celebrating the life of Florence Walter; her sketches of some of her bindings; and books and single sheet material printed by the senior Bissingers.

As far as we are aware this is the largest collection the work of Florence Walter in an institution, and we are proud that her grandchildren chose our library for its preservation, so that the public may enjoy it for generations to come.

Kathleen Burch of the SF Center for the Book

Book Club of California programs for the opening of the Florence Walter exhibit.

The exhibition also includes examples of Walter’s work from other sources, as well as bindings by her teacher, another celebrated San Francisco bookbinder, Belle McMurtrie Young (wife of the second president of the Book Club of California, William R. Young).

This post is from the Book Club of California website. See the original post at

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The San Francisco Center for the Book

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