Percy Alfred Elisha Grassby was born on July 12, 1882, in Dunstable, [Bedfordshire], England. His full name was transcribed in the Manitoba, Marriage Index, 1881–1937 at Ancestry.com. Grassby’s birth information was on his World War II draft card.
On May 19, 1902, Grassby was aboard the ship Numidian when it sailed from Liverpool, England and arrived in Montreal, Canada. His occupation was artisan.
Grassby was counted in the 1906 Canada Census of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta which was enumerated beginning June 24, 1906. The surname was misspelled “Grasby”. Grassby was in his older brother’s household; Arthur was married and had a daughter. The census said Grassby immigrated in 1903 but it was 1902.
On August 3, 1906, Grassby married Lillian May Strong in Deloraine, Manitoba, Canada.
Ancestry.com has an Index to Alien Case Files. Grassby crossed the Canadian border into the U. S. on September 20, 1906. The port of entry was not recorded.
Grassby’s first child was born on November 13, 1906 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (The Social Security Death Index said she was born May 24, 1906.) In the U.S. censuses, her name was Florence and sometime later she was known as Fiona.
Minnesota Prints and Printmakers, 1900–1945 (2009) profiled Grassby and said
… He left Canada by 1907 for Grand Rapids, Michigan, but paused in Minnesota for a few years. In 1909 he produced a set of eleven etchings and one drypoint of Twin Cities scenes, mostly of the area around Theodore Wirth Park, Bassett Creek, and the lake known at the time as Keegan’s Lake (today, Theodore Wirth Lake). …
The Twentieth Annual Report of the Minneapolis Public Library for the Year Ending December 31, 1909 (1910) said “We purchased this year a set of etchings done by Mr. Percy Grassby, a Minneapolis etcher”.
By 1911, Grassby was a Grand Rapids, Michigan resident. In the 1911 city directory Grassby lived at 328 Turner and was a designer at the James Bayne Company. (James A. Bayne was the president of the company of commercial photographers, engravers and printers, located at 378–384 North Front). The 1912 directory listed Grassby at 105 Ann NE and employed at the James Bayne company. He was not in the 1913 directory, but the American Art Annual Volume 10 (1913) had this entry: “Grassby, Percy, 167 Anne St., Grand Rapids, Mich. (P.)”
In 1912 Grassby went through Canada to sail to England. A passenger list said Grassby was a designer who departed Montreal and arrived in Liverpool, England on August 11, 1912. The date of his return to Canada is not known.
Grassby and his wife filled out immigration cards on November 30, 1914 at Newport, Vermont. Grassby said he visited Boston, Massachusetts from October 3, 1913 to October 19, 1913.
The December 1914 passenger list included Grassby and his wife on lines five and six. Their destination was Boston.
Grassby’s work was featured in the article, “Notes on Some Canadian Etchers”, in The Studio, January 15, 1915 and International Studio, February 1915.
The work of Mr. Precy [sic] Grassby is as yet not well known in Canada. Although by birth an old-countryman, he has made Canada his home. His work is more unusual than any of the others of this group, as may be seen by the reproductions. Indeed, it has a delightfully medieval flavour, the same as is imparted by an antique bit of porcelain or tapestry. But its chief charm is its distinctiveness. Even an unskilled eye could pick it out from among many others, and, good or bad, that always is a point in its favour. Should he remain in Canada and exhibit freely, his work is likely to have an influence on etching in the Dominion.
The Printing Art, March 1915, published six pages of Grassby’s wood engravings.
The New York Tribune, November 8, 1915, reported the American Institute of Graphic Arts exhibition of engravings.
Famous Prints in Art ExhibitEngravings on Display at Club Attracting Much Attention.The exhibition of American wood engraving, under the auspices of the American Institute of Graphic Arts, which opened on Wednesday last at the National Arts Club, 15 Gramercy Park, for ten days, is attracting much attention by reason of the variety and importance of the prints shown. ...... Fourteen of Rudolph’s Ruzicka’s pictures, a series of views of New York streets, are shown by permission of the Grolier Club, of this city, and his Fountains of Paul Rome are shown by permission of Mrs. Charles MacVeagh. The individual engravers exhibiting are Herbert M. Baer, Frederick T. Chapman, William Baxter Closson, Timothy Cole, Elizabeth Colwell, Arthur W. Dow, Percy Grassby, Edna Boies Hopkins, Mrs. W. M. Ivins, jr., Allen Lewis, Howard McCormick, V. Preissig, Stephen G. Putnam, Rudolph Ruzicka, William G. Watt and Henry Wolf. ...
Grassby’s decoration was reproduced in The Printing Art, December 1915.
The 1916 Boston city directory said Grassby, a designer, resided in Waverley and occupied room 25 at 26 Lime Street. Grassby was also listed in the business directory. The tenants of 26 Lime Street included artists, designers, illustrators, jewelry manufactures, metal workers, sculptors, and silversmiths. One notable person was W.A. Dwiggins. The 1917 Boston directory said Grassby resided in Lexington. The 1922 Lexington directory said he lived on Concord near Waltham.
The Inland Printer, June 1916, reproduced Grassby’s stationery for J. J. Birmingham.
The Printing Art, August 1917, showed Grassby’s design for the Japan Paper Company of New York.
On April 12, 1918, Grassby signed his World War I draft card. His address was Concord Avenue in Lexington, Massachusetts. The typographic designer was described as slender, medium build with brown hair and gray eyes.
Grassby was mentioned in Arts & Decoration, August 1919.
The 1920 United States Census counted Grassby, his wife, daughter, Florence, and son, George (1915–1982), in Lexington on Concord Avenue. Grassby was a self-employed designer working in the printing trade.
Grassby’s wife and children were on the following sheet.
Grassby’s portrait of Benjamin Franklin for a calendar was shown in The American Printer, March 5, 1920.
The American Printer, June 5, 1920, article, “American Typography at Its Best”, cited two works by Grassby: “One Hundred Years of progress,” a booklet designed byPercy Grassby, illustrated by F. Crouse and printed by the Caxton Press, Cleveland; … “Design and Layout,” by Percy Grassby and the Franklin Printing Company; …
Grassby was mentioned in Arts & Decoration, August 1921, and Scribner’s Magazine, November 1921. Three Grassby engravings were included in the Annual of Advertising Art in the United States 1921: Etched Portrait, Wood Engraved Portrait and Benjamin Franklin.
The New York Herald, May 28, 1922, said Grassby had a woodcut in New York Public Library exhibition.
Art News, December 15, 1923, covered the Brooklyn Society of Etchers exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. Grassby’s work was noted.
Grassby was mentioned in American Graphic Art (1924).
The mention of posters recalls other uses to which the wood-block has been put. Book-plates form an interesting specialty, cultivated by Ruzicka, George W. Plank, A. Allen Lewis, and W. F. Hopson, the art of the last-named long since clarified into a sure and calm taste and craftsmanship. Holiday cards for individuals embody happy conceits by Ruzicka, Lewis, and F. T. Chapman, and the art has been felicitously applied to commercial purposes by Murphy, Chapman, Percy A. Grassby, Ruzicka, and C. B. Falls.
The Boston Herald, November 18, 1928, reported the fire at Grassby’s studio.
In 1930, Grassby had two more children, Dorothy (1921–2019) and Roger (1926–2012). Florence was an artist. The family’s address was unchanged.
The Goodspeed’s Book Shop advertisement appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, May 3, 1930.
According to the 1940 census, Grassby, his wife and two youngest children were Lexington residents at 311 Concord Avenue. Grassby’s home was valued at $7,000.
Grassby signed his World War II draft card on April 27, 1942. His home address was 11 1/2 Revere Street, in Boston. Grassby’s studio was at 21 Hale Street. Grassby’s description was five feet six inches, 145 pounds, with gray eyes and hair.
The Boston directories from 1942 to 1957 said Grassby’s address was 11 1/2 Revere Street. True List of Persons Seventeen Years of Age or Older Residing in the Town of Arlington, Massachusetts, January 1, 1958, listed Grassby, his wife and son at 31 Dartmouth Street.
Grassby was included in Paul Standard’s book, Calligraphy’s Flowering, Decay & Restoration: With Hints for Its Wider Use Today (1947).
Up Boston way, besides Dwiggins, one should mention Percy Grassby, who is better known for his woodengraved portraits and landscapes. But like a good master, Grassby is also a spirited calligraphic engraver in all styles.
Grassby’s wife, Lillian, passed away February 11, 1965. At some point Grassby moved to New York state to be close to his daughter Fiona Sinclair, an artist and instructor in Ossining. The Daily News, (Tarrytown, New York), May 1, 1952, profiled her.
… Mrs. Sinclair is the daughter of Percy Alfred Grassby, internationally known engraver, etcher and illustrator. She studied at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, at Columbia University, at Slades [Slade School of Fine Art] in London and portraiture under F. Bosely. Her paintings have been exhibited at the St. Botolph Club in Boston, at the Jackson Galleries in Jackson, Mississippi; at Chatham Hall in Chatham, Virginia at Cooperstown, New York; and at the Junior Service League here at Tarrytown. Mrs. Sinclair has been in the teaching field for 15 years. She is presently Art Director at the New York School the Deaf In White Plains. She is well recognized in the water color field as well as in landscapes and in gouache. She maintains a studio in Ossining and specializes in pastel portraits of the younger set. She is considered by critics outstanding in her Americana studies.
The Evening News (Beacon, New York), August 1, 1972, wrote about Fiona Grassby Banta’s (formerly Sinclair) students exhibition.
Watercolors DisplayedPoughkeepsie—The dining room at St. Francis Hopsital will feature an exhibit of watercolors by students of the Studio School of Art during August.The Director, Fiona Grassby Banta, a well-known aquarellist, opened her studio to teach aspiring students watercolors in all forms. Mrs Banta has studied in America and England and hat recently returned from a painting trip along California and Mexican coast in preparation for several one-man shows this coming winter and spring.The Studio School of Art is located on Diddell Rood in Wappingers Falls. The exhibit at St. Francis will include works of both junior and adult classes.
Grassby passed away on August 30, 1973, in Poughkeepsie, New York. The Social Security Death Index said his last residence was Millbrook, New York. The following day an obituary appeared in the Boston Globe.
Grassby—In Poughkeepsie, N.Y., formerly of Lexington, Aug. 30, Percy A., beloved husband of the late Lillian M. (Strong) Grassby; father of George K. and Roger A. of Marlboro, Mrs. Edward Banter [sic] of Wappingers Falls, New York, Mrs. William Dwyer of Puyallup, Washington. Private services in the Walsh Funeral Home, 20 High St., Waltham, at the convenience of the family. In lieu of flowers donations should be made to the Heart Fund, Beacon St., Boston, Mass.
Grassby was laid to rest at the Newton Cemetery.
The Poughkeepsie Journal, April 9, 1987, published Fiona’s obituary. She passed away on April 4 and was laid to rest at Newton Cemetery. (The Social Security Death Index said she died June 1, 1985.)
(Updated November 7, 2022. Next post on Monday: Comic Book Trademarks, Part 14)