The Grossman Collection at Winterthur Museum

Mr. Grossman was the founder of The John Collection of Antique Images assembled 1974-2012 as one of the foremost collections of graphic ephemera in the United States and maybe the world. Over 250,000 printed and handwritten paper artifacts representing the finest commercially printed images produced approximately between 1820-1920 form a comprehensive portrait of Victorian everyday life.

John Grossman, born in Iowa in 1932, had a fascinating career – one that included a passion for art starting in high school and into his adult life. He served in the Army between 1952-1954, but returned to his blossoming art career in San Francisco, where he worked as a lettering artist. A few years later, he spent time at the Sorbonne in Paris and then returned back to San Francisco. In 1967, he was appointed Vice Chairman, and later appointed Chairman, by Ronald Reagan to the California Arts Commission. His painting, “California Golden Hills” was presented to the Emperor and Empress of Japan by Ronald Reagan. In 1984, with his wife, Carolyn, he founded a stationary company, The Gifted Line, which had a strong interest in Victoriana. The Grossmans have been prolific emissaries of Victorian culture and have also had an impact on the history of California arts. Mr. Grossman passed away in 2016 and his collection is now available to view at the Winterthur Museum in Delaware. The collection of 250,000 images documents life in America between 1820 to 1920. Among the collection’s pieces is the first commercially released Christmas card, commissioned by an English artist in 1843.

A member of The Ephemera Society of America since 1981, and a past member of the Board, Grossman was the recipient of the 1990 Maurice Rickards Award presented by the Society for his promotion of the public awareness of ephemera. His research paper, “Chromolithography and the Cigar Label,” was presented at the Society’s fifth symposium in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, in 1995. It was published in The Ephemera Journal, Volume 9, 2001. His presentation “Labeling America'” on the George Schlegel Lithographic Company, was given at the Ephemera 25 Conference, 2005.

I have personally always adored Victorian related ephemera. My mother has passed down her love of greeting cards to me, and I found a particular passion for learning about Victorian calling cards. Cards during the Victorian era, in particular, are not only aesthetically pleasing, they also embody a hospitality and care, and overt loving nature, for those around you. I was first introduced to the images of the Grossman Collection by seeing the stamp of it on a Punch Studio branded card collection I had. I later learned of how prolific this collection is and also how Mr. Grossman made an extensive impact on the arts in California in particular. Mr. Grossman’s collection is unrivaled in its nature and its comprehensive imagery is especially unique in telling the story of how Victorian life and arts presented itself to people of that era, between 1820-1920. Beyond a far gone era, the charm and artistic value of the Grossman Collection will remain timeless.

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