One of the little known sidelines of Oak Knoll Books is Delaware history. If you are in an historically interesting state and love its history as I do, then your store should certainly reflect that interest. We currently have over 1000 titles in this section of our bookstore at present. And it just grew a lot recently!
We hadn’t purchased a large group of Delaware related items for a number of years but recently purchased three private collections. The largest was just purchased from a long time Delaware resident who was moving from his home in one Delaware town to the quaint town of Arden, Delaware. Arden has its own story as it was founded by Frank Stephens and Will Price in 1900 under the philosophy of Henry George as a single tax community.
And Delaware being what it is, the second smallest state in the union, I experienced the usual “do you know such and such” moment where it turned out that the collector had graduated a few years before me from the University of Delaware’s Chemical Engineering program and knew many of the professors that taught me back in the late 1960s. My first job out of college was at the refinery in Delaware City, Delaware. He had worked there when it was Tidewater before its purchase by Getty Oil. A number of his fellow workers had stayed on after the purchase and I knew them. He got a kick out of some of the stories that I told about the refinery including the one about John Paul Getty’s payphones in his personal English estate house meant to keep his expenses down. ‘Tis a small world.
Click here to see part 1.
Day 8. Finally another real book day! I walked back to the Kok store and spent a part of the day going through all the books in the rare book room and then walked on to De Slegte, which is a chain of new bookstores in the Netherlands with a rare book department in their main Amsterdam store. I found books in their store and abused my friendship with Ton and Marga by taking the books back to their shop to ship for me. (I have found a great way to have books shipped back to the US from overseas purchases: I use a company called UOcean, which picks up the boxes from the bookstore and sends them back to New Castle cheaper and faster than the various country postal systems. In this case UOcean picked up all my purchases from Wykham, Cox, and Kok, consolidated the shipment, and delivered directly to New Castle. I’ve used them in Australia, Spain, Germany, France, and many other countries.) And of course my trip to the Netherlands had to end with a great meal in companionship with one of the great friends I have met while doing ILAB and ABAA work, Jelle Samshuijzen. He is Oak Knoll’s web master and developer of our in-house database. I worked with him while he was web master for the ABAA and ILAB and love sharing a martini with him, a tradition that dates back almost two decades. He had found a new restaurant in Amsterdam that mixed Asian and European food in a superb manner.
Day 9. Had to get to Budapest in time for a Committee cocktail hour and dinner with the Hungarians and found that plane travel from Amsterdam directly to Budapest one way cost over $900. I kept waiting for a cheap flight to open up but the cheap airline serving Budapest went bankrupt the week before I made reservations. I finally flew LOT airlines, which is the main Polish carrier. I was served up many a joke by my friends about my chances of arrival in Budapest but they were all totally wrong. The flight to Warsaw and then on to Budapest went without a hitch. We were warned to be very careful taking the taxi from the airport to the hotel and only sign up with legitimate taxis. (This reminded me of Prague.) I found the right one who charged me in the Hungarian currency of Forint (they are part of the Euro zone but have not adopted the Euro). We met that evening with the Hungarian booksellers’ association for a “let’s get acquainted” dinner and had a welcome speech from Adam Bosze, their President, in perfect English and a passionate speech by the dean of Hungarian booksellers, Lajos Borda, in Hungarian. It was a very pleasant beginning.
Day 10. This is the real work day. The Committee of ILAB started the meeting at 10 and it lasted all day. It would amaze the average bookseller in ILAB how much time and energy is spent by the volunteer booksellers who run the organization. The current Committee of eight comes from eight different countries (Netherlands, USA, Australia, Denmark, Austria, France, Germany, Switzerland) with an executive secretary from France and a web editor from Germany. Email makes it possible for them to “talk” every day, and they do. The actual “Members” of the League are the countries but they only get together once a year in the fall so it is up to the Committee to steer the ILAB ship on the right course on a day-to-day basis. Issues such as export/import, stolen books, ethics, and promotion of the book and manuscript world in this digital age concern them every day. We ended the day with another fabulous dinner with our Hungarian bookseller friends.
Day 11. We now have a chance to see some of the sites of Budapest. Adam Bosze takes us to the castle overlooking the river followed by an outdoor lunch in a restaurant. We then go back to see booksellers along “booksellers’ row” near our hotel. I manage to buy a few books while trying not to get confused by the conversion of Forints to Euros to Dollars. Adam’s main job is as an interviewer for the equivalent of a PBS Hungarian TV station where he covers the arts. He scheduled five of us for TV interviews, which were filmed in one of the bookstores. I’m not sure how many of the Hungarians will understand our English, but Adam says he will take all of our comments and edit them down to about a six-minute segment. And, of course, we all have another great dinner.
Day 12. Adam has a surprise for many of us. He wants us to join him on the subway to go to a secret place for a late breakfast/coffee. Off we go to one of the last standing leftover cafés from the communist days (1989 was the end of communism in Hungary). He especially notes how we will probably be mistreated, abused and ignored for service just like in the old days of communism. One of the Hungarian booksellers explains to all of us what life was like under communism – how did it effect getting a home, finding a car, dealing with the government. And to think that was just 23 years ago. Tom Congalton (current ILAB Vice President, owner of Between the Covers here in America) and I go to visit one of the younger Hungarian booksellers and I buy interesting examples of 20th century printing from him. Adam then takes me (and the Poulsens from Denmark) to visit Lajos Borda who I mentioned was the dean of Hungarian booksellers. He speaks Hungarian and German so Adam is our most effective translator. It turns out that Borda has a publishing program which also includes some beautifully printed and bound limited editions. I am so impressed with his work that I ask him if I can try to sell a set of his works to an American library. I get a great smile and a handshake after Adam finishes his translation. I hope I have found a new friend through the book world. Some of the committee had to fly home this day so we gradually lose friends throughout the day, but, of course, there are still enough of us left to enjoy a fine dinner and a glass of wine or two that evening.
Day 13. This is a Sunday, and I’m now by myself as the last of the committee flies home one by one during the morning. Tom and Heidi Congalton are off to do the London Book Fair. I decide to use the sunshine filled day to go back to the Danube and take one of the 1 hour boat cruises up and down the river to see the sites. I see all the long river cruise ships tied up at the various docks after letting off their passengers to view the city. I walk all over the city enjoying the buildings and watching the people. My last dinner is spent by myself, which is something I really enjoy doing on occasion. I have a very leisurely meal in one of the streets that caters to outdoor eating with a bottle of wine and ponder upon the good life of an antiquarian bookseller.
Day 14. Home I go. Budapest to Heathrow using British Air and then on to Philadelphia with all flights on time. After 14 hours of traveling I quickly get through customs, find my bag and walk through the gate where they collect the customs forms. I am ready to see my wife Millie as I am beat. But wait – one more adventure. For the first time in seven years (according to the TSA personnel), I set off the radiation counter strapped to the belt of the young lady collecting my customs form. I had recently gone through successful seed implants for prostate cancer and had been warned that there was a faint chance I could trigger such a machine. The doctor had provided me with a card which described the procedure I had just completed and gave the date which was supposed to be my “get out of jail free” card. Unfortunately the TSA hadn’t had such a case for such a long time they had trouble getting the special Geiger counter to work correctly. After a hour of waiting while calls to headquarters took place, I was allowed to leave with apologizes all around. At least I know that the security at airports works!
And now I’m anxiously awaiting all the books to come in. I hear they have been mailed and I’m really excited to work on them and maybe even offer them to one of you reading this blog.
One of the joys of being a bookseller is the chance to take occasional trips overseas as part of my business. My latest adventure was a two week, three country trip by plane, train, car, and boat to England, the Netherlands, and Hungary (with an airport layover in Poland). I saw lots of old friends and made some new ones, bought books, finalized a publishing deal, and ate many great meals.
The main purpose of the trip was to participate in the International League of Antiquarian Bookseller’s (ILAB) Committee meeting in Budapest. The Committee that runs the day-to-day affairs of the League (8 booksellers, an Executive Secretary and the Web Editor) meet in the Spring of each year. This year they chose Budapest as Hungary is the newest country in ILAB and the Committee wanted to show support for the Hungarian organization and get to know the booksellers better. I’m not an officer any longer (President from 2002-2006) but was elected a President of Honour in 2008, which means that I get to go to the meetings and offer a bit of advice on occasion.
Day 1 and 2. One lovely part about New Castle, Delaware, home of Oak Knoll Books, is how close it is to the Philadelphia International Airport, which operates as a hub for US Air and British Air. I took the late direct flight to London’s Heathrow Airport on British Air and got in at 10 in the morning. I have been staying in a small boutique hotel in South Kensington simply called Number 16 for many years as I can just hop on the tube (Piccadilly Line) and be at the South Kensington station about 40 minutes later. The hotel is very small but in a great location and has great ambiance. I spent the rest of the day checking out the neighborhood and making sure I had lined up a restaurant for the evening.
Day 3. I have bought many books from Howard Mather at Wykham Books over the years but had never sat down with him for a meal to get to know him better. He specializes in my kind of books (books about books), so I had emailed him a number of weeks before leaving and asked if we could have lunch together. He gave me directions to his warehouse location in Wimbledon Park so I took the tube from South Kensington and arranged to meet him at 10:30. So how the heck was I to know that Wimbledon and Wimbledon Park are two separate tube stops! After a half an hour of scouring the neighborhood I finally asked a street cleaner how I could have missed the location. He looked at my directions and quickly spotted the word “Park” after Wimbledon and said I had gone one tube stop too many. A cell phone call got me back in Howard’s good graces, and I eventually found him. Off to lunch we go, in an ancient long hooded English convertible that my “full figure” barely squeezed into. We then had a pleasant two-hour lunch getting caught up on mutual friends and past experiences. There is nothing like a bottle of wine to help one figure out the future of the book business.
Days 4 and 5. One of my buddies in the book business is Tony Cox, who operates Claude Cox Books in Ipswich. When Oak Knoll bought the Randeria collection in England a number of years ago, Tony was a great help and bought the less expensive store stock as part of the deal. He has stayed with Millie and me in New Castle and extended an invitation for me to stay with him for two nights while I was in England. He has a great store in an ancient building with lots of books about books and is always worth a visit while I’m in England. I took a taxi to the Liverpool train station and caught a train for Ipswich. Tony picked me up at the station and took me to the shop for a quick book fix. We then headed off to his home, which is a 17th century house with rentable holiday space. And – lucky for me – he had gotten in some books about books collections that had not yet made it to the shop but were available for browsing and instant pricing. He is my kind of man.
Day 6. When I was planning my trip, I was considering various options for getting to Amsterdam from England. I noticed that there was ferry service twice a day from Harwich, England, to Hoek (Netherlands), and asked Tony what he knew about it. Harwich was an easy drive from Ipswich, and Tony offered to drive me to the ferry port on Sunday morning. The ferry trip was long (7 hours), but when you consider all the problems in flying and the fact that my travel day was a Sunday without much else to do, I thought it worth a try. When we arrived at the port, I was amazed at the size of the ferry as it looked more like a cruise ship! I hadn’t been on a ferry like that since cruising around the Baltic Sea during ILAB’s Scandinavian Congress. This car-ferry line operates once in the morning and once in the evening. They have staterooms, casinos, restaurants, entertainment, and great views if the sea is calm. For less than $200 for the entire trip, I decided to take the optional stateroom upgrade (necessary if you take the evening trip). I scouted out the ship and quickly spotted the best restaurant on board, where I reserved a table right on the water. The seven hours flew by in one of the most pleasant trips that I had taken for quite a while. When I arrived in the Netherlands, I walked to the close-by train station and got on the train to Rotterdam and then transferred to the train for Amsterdam. I had some help with directions during that part of the trip as I bumped into a Los Angeles restaurant owner making his first trip to the Netherlands who had, in turn, made friends with a young Dutchman on his way home to Amsterdam. We travelled as a threesome to the central station in Amsterdam, which was an easy walk from the hotel I had chosen with help from Ton Kok, a Dutch bookseller friend of mine. It was right on the edge of Amsterdam’s famous red light district so walking around the neighborhood proved to be quite a sight seeing adventure!
Day 7. I had various business propositions to talk over with people at the University of Amsterdam and started the day with a leisurely walk around the city followed by lunch with Cees de Jong, who is a book packager and designer. He has recently put together a book on the Jan Tholenaar Collection of type specimens published by Taschen. We walked to the University, and I met the people working on an upcoming Oak Knoll Press distribution title (John Lane, Diaspora of Armenian Printing). I also talked over some business with the rare book librarian. I then had time to walk to Ton and Marga Kok’s bookshop in Amsterdam, which is a huge establishment full of interesting books. When the shop closed, Marga and Ton and I walked to a famous Amsterdam restaurant (Haesje Claes) and met Irene and Arnoud Gerits (current President of ILAB) for dinner.
Click here for part 2.
As promised, Bob has been taking pictures of his trip as he can. And here they are!
Book hunting. It’s what we have to do from time to time to keep in stock hard-to-find items for catalogues. I don’t know if our dedicated followers (YOU!) have been paying much attention to our recently acquired stock lately, but we have been on a type specimen and illuminated facsimiles binge. My father and I recently got back from a trip to New England, making rounds at some local bookstores and picking up a couple collections on the way. It has become quite fun adding new titles to the lists for our upcoming Special Catalogue #19 and Catalogue #300. Even after 36 years in business, we do run into books that, believe it or not, we have never had before. One book that we came back with was, while not incredibly expensive, incredibly interesting. It’s a type specimen foldout by the French type foundry Deberny & Peignot titled Les Cochins from 1914. We were so surprised to find that this one hasn’t ever been in our system, as we have had other Deberny & Peignot titles before, but it certainly is nice to add one more. It’s so new it is sitting on a cart waiting for an image as we speak. You can view the book online here.
One of the joys of being an antiquarian bookseller is the experience of traveling overseas for business. I left last night for what I estimate is my 75th trip overseas. This trip will include time in England, the Netherlands, and Hungary. Hungary is the newest country to become a member of the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers, and they have invited the Committee that manages the business of the League to have their Spring meeting in Budapest. Even though I’m long retired from being President of the League, Presidents of Honour are still invited to the meetings for their feedback, so off I go.
I’ll keep you posted about England and the Netherlands as well, as I’m visiting lots of interesting bookshops while there and will experience the England-to-Netherlands ferry for the first time.
Some of you have probably seen my recent interview with Nate Pedersen on the Fine Books & Collections blog. I just wanted to add that I am now an official Associate Member of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America! It is truly an honor to belong to a society that has affected me throughout my entire life. I would like to thank the members of the ABAA, as well as Tom Congalton for writing an excellent letter of recommendation. Most of all, I’d like to thank my father. Without him, I wouldn’t have been introduced into the bookselling career.
An article recently posted in the Criss Chronicles of the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
“Who are Helmut, Deborah and Hope? – An Ephemeramystery” by Oliver B. Pollak
A Saturday in October 2011 found me in the library selecting books for the Spring semester. I took a break and sat on the black leather chairs opposite circulation, next to the new book display. The distinctive binding and paper of Women Bookbinders 1880-1920 by Marianne Tidcombe (Oak Knoll Books and British Library, 1996) reached out to me.
I surmised that Marvel Maring, an inspired bookbinder, ordered it. In the book lay a 4 by 6 inch note dated June 19, 2001, from Helmut to Deborah, mentioning Hope, lamenting the sale of his “library.”
Who were Helmut, Debora and Hope? Book sleuth juices flowed. Within less than a second google disclosed that the letterhead address, 173 Riverside Drive, belonged to Helmut Nathan Friedlaender (1913-2008). Five obituaries in the New York Times and Independent (London) described a financially and culturally accomplished life.
Helmut, son of a Berlin lawyer, fled Nazi Germany in 1933 and arrived in New York via the Netherlands, Italy, and Switzerland where he earned a doctorate in administrative law at Lausanne University. He commanded English, French, German, Greek, Hebrew and Latin. He learned international arbitrage in London.
Helmut, financial adviser to philanthropist William Rosenwald, the second son of the Sears and Roebuck chairman, served as a director of Ametek, a manufacturer of precision instruments and small electric motors for over 50 years. Other corporate positions included the American Securities Corporation, Western Union International, and the first easterner on the Union Stockyards of Omaha board.
He served and contributed to the Council of Fellows of the Morgan Library, the Grolier Club, President’s Council of the New York Public Library, President’s Council of the Center for International Studies at NYU Law School, Friend of the Parker Library in Cambridge, England, Oxford’s Bodleian, who awarded him the Bodley Medal in 2005 for supporting the publication of a six volume, 3,000 page, catalog of Bodliean incunables.
Marvel ordered the book and Danielle Simpson in purchasing identified the seller as Yankee Peddler Books. I talked with YPB customer service representative Karla Meyette, a 31 year employee. The invoice dated September 15, 2011 indicates a cost of about $60. She speculated that it could have been a publisher return resold to YPB. YPB inspects the books its sells for any defects, this passed through. How does a new book contain a personal letter?
The Harvard Library Newsletter, no. 1032, June 2001, announced the hiring of Hope Mayo who had worked for Christie’s, and as Helmut’s part time librarian from 1992 to 2001. Her 1974 Harvard doctorate in medieval history clearly qualified her to curate Latin manuscripts and incunables.
Friedlaender started collecting in 1970, at the age of 57. A visit to London’s famed antiquarian book dealer Bernard Quaritch spurred his passion for medieval illuminated manuscripts and incunables, moveable type books published before 1500 –“cradle books”- were his babies, and he had the money and acumen to pursue them.
The lavishly illustrated, two volume, hardbound Christie’s catalog listed 559 lots, some containing as many as 258 volumes. I requested the catalogue through Interlibrary Loan and then purchased it for $19 including shipping through abebooks.
The sale occurred on April 23-24, 2001. On the first day 172 out of 185 lots sold, ranging from $666,000 for Ciceronis Officia et Paradoxa (1465), to $3,525, for Speculum Exemplorum (1487), for a total of $8,433,500. Fortunate purchasers acquired ten medieval illuminated manuscripts and 117 incunables. Later books were in English, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, and Russian.
The second day 255 lots netted $914,291, 118 went unsold. The four volume Golden Cockerel Press Canterbury Tales sold for $41,125, and the 11th edition 32 volume Encyclopedia [sic] Britannica went for $212.
Literary icons included a 15th century Boccaccio manuscript, estimated to bring $10,000 to $15,000, fetched $47,000. The next day a 1934 printing of Decameron went under the hammer, and Milton’s Paradise Lost brought $47,000.
Enlightenment works included the 35 volume Diderot Encylopédie which brought $138,000, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon ($76,375), and legal works by William Blackstone ($17,625). Economists David Ricardo and John Maynard Keynes brought $14,100 and $1,998 respectively. Keynes’ 1936 General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money sold the second day.
American classics included Benjamin Franklin ($22,325) and Henry David Thoreau ($4,700). Charles Babbage ($18,800) the designer of the difference machine, an early mechanical computer and Frederick Winslow Taylor’s, The Principles of Scientific Management (1911) represented emerging technology.
Judaica and Hebraica included Spinoza, several Passover Haggadahs and works by Zionist Theodor Herzl. Helmut’s interests in print included the fine presses Aldine, Ashendene, Doves, Golden Cockerel, Grabhorn, Roxburghe Club and Yolla Bolly. An almost complete set of Bird & Bull works, about 120 items, went unsold as did 258 volumes of The Book Collector. Five hundred-forty Grolier Club publications garnered $28,200.
Helmut enjoyed seeing his collection in a two volume printed catalog. A Dutch and Swedish bidder fell on hard times and Helmut repurchased part of his old collection at a discount.
The sale of his collection introduced a new bibliophilia chapter. He started a collection of Baedekers, early travel guides, originating in 19th century Germany. He would enter a book store asking “Have you any Baedekers?” Following his death 67 volumes “chiefly” from his estate were auctioned by Swann’s Galleries on April 21, 2009.
Hope Mayo’s publications include the Introduction to Morgan Library Ghost Stories (1990) with wood engravings by John De Pol, “Olomouc, not Herzogenburg – A group of Gothic Blind-tooled bookbindings reattributed,” in the Gutenberg Jahrbuch (1994), One Hundred Books Famous in Medicine (Grolier Club, 1995), and an Introduction to Marbled and Paste Papers, Rosamond Loring’s Recipe Book (2007).
Bob Fleck at Oak Knoll Books identified Deborah. My Thursday, November 3, 2011 email to Bob went unanswered. I called him on Tuesday, November 8 at 11:30 CST, he was at lunch. I reached him at 12:15. Four or five months earlier Bob purchased about 1,000 books from Deborah Evetts, the Pierpont Morgan Library Head of Rare Book Conservation, who moved into smaller Manhattan quarters. Her pristine Women Bookbinders, went back into stock. Yankee Peddler contacted Oak Knoll Books, a publisher and used book dealer. Oak Knoll sold an ostensibly new book, actually previously owned, to Yankee Peddler who sent it to UNO.
In 2000 a conference celebrated the opening of the Bernard C. Middleton Collection of Books on the History and practice of Bookbinding. The proceedings, Bookbinding 2000 (Rochester Institute of Technology, 2002) included “Coptic Bookbindings at the Pierpont Morgan Library: Their History and Preservation” by Deborah Evetts, and “Women Bookbinders in Britain Before the First World War,” by Marianne Tidcombe.
As to the 80-word note, Helmut scribbled letters for his secretary to type.
 Marvel Maring, Danielle Simpson, Les Valentine, Karl Johnson II, Bob Nash, Hope Mayo, Deborah Evetts, Bob Fleck, Karla Meyette, abebooks, WorldCat, and Mark Walters at Interlibrary Loan, assisted in this project.
 Your author managed UCLA library bindery repairs in the late 1960s.
 My cousin, Inge Halpert, left Vienna in 1941, earned her doctorate at Columbia University where she was a Professor of German, lived at 445 Riverside Drive.
 As a teenager Rockwell Kent’s illustrated edition introduced me to erotica. I have five English editions.
 Keynes a member of the British delegation at the 1919 Versaille Peace Conference demonstrated his dissent in his prophetic Economic Consequence of the Peace (1919), of which I have a copy.
 I have a 1938 Grabhorn Press leaf book with a page from Caxton’s 1482 Polychronichon.
 I traveled in Scotland in 1995 using a late 19th century Baedeker.
 Your author acquired a collection of John De Pol’s work from Neil Shaver.
 In 2010 I attended a Newberry Library exhibit, “Norma Rubovits: The Art of Marbled Papers and Fine Bindings.”
 I reviewed Robert D. Fleck’s Books about Books: A History and Bibliography of Oak Knoll Press (2008), NCB News (Spring 2009).
Reprinted with permission of Criss Chronicles, University of Nebraska at Omaha, where it appeared in January 2012.
Bob thought he was going into his son Rob’s office to look at some books, but little did he know he would be greeted with some taco take-out, a whole bunch of cupcakes, and his entire Oak Knoll staff singing happy birthday!
In celebration of Bob’s birthday this Saturday, we decided to throw a small birthday party right here at the office. We put up our special birthday banner, ate too much food, and of course enjoyed some light-hearted conversation.
Happy Birthday to the man who has continued to write the story of Oak Knoll since its founding in 1976 (not to reveal too much of his age!). Here’s to another year of health, happiness, and good books!
Check out this interview of Bob Fleck that reveals his history as a bookseller and Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America (ABAA) member. He talks about the history behind Oak Knoll’s founding, his work and relations with the ABAA, various committees on which he has served, his travels and love for the social aspect of the ABAA, and much more. He also examines the challenges of bookselling and offers advice for those who are interested in starting a business just as he did.
The interview is part of an effort by ABAA member Michael Ginsberg to cover members’ personal histories as well as their involvement in the rare book trade. Click here to watch the interview.