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Archive for July, 2010

Books about Books Part 3: A 2nd publication and the move to New Castle

July 9, 2010 Leave a comment

The second Oak Knoll publication was about as ephemeral as one can get: a 1979 Christmas keepsake printed by John Anderson at the Pickering Press. I had developed a friendship with John, a noted typographer whose small private press books were some of the best contemporary examples of fine printing.

Over the years John and I had alternating lunches between Maple Shade, New Jersey, and New Castle, Delaware, and I got to hear some of the classic tales of typography in action. (His best tale was of Beatrice Warde and the animated talk she gave to a group of Philadelphia printers. Beatrice’s talk was so animated that one of her breasts fell out of her dress, and she nonchalantly placed it back with a smile).

414 Delaware Street

414 Delaware Street, New Castle

I moved my business from Newark to New Castle in December 1979. John and Emily Ballinger moved up from North Carolina and bought into the business, and their  down-payment was just enough cash to allow me to buy 414 Delaware Street from Herb Tobin, a legend in New Castle lore. Herb was the last in line of the family butchers and knew every reputable historical fact (and many disreputable) about the city of New Castle. This Victorian storefront had been a butcher’s shop during its entire life before I turned it into a bookshop.

The building had great “history” to it, which meant there were cracks and creaks everywhere, and when winter came, the drains froze. There was a typical New Castle basement—low headroom and dirt floors—and the original slaughterhouse behind the house came with my purchase and was quickly converted into a wine storage area. We had a first floor shop, and I rented the second and third floor to the Ballingers as their living quarters. It is a wonder that we all managed to work and store the books that we had in the four rooms on the first floor.

The Ballingers had different ideas about running a business than I did, and they departed in 1982 for Williamsburg, Virginia, and the Bookpress, another antiquarian book business.

Tune in next week for more from Books about Books: A History and Bibliography of Oak Knoll Press.

Oak Knoll’s Summer of Reading

July 7, 2010 1 comment

Even after working all day surrounded by shelves of books about books, the staff here at Oak Knoll still can’t resist the lure of the summer read– the opportunity to just sit back, curl up and enjoy the simple pleasure of getting lost in a book.  Of course we share a common love of books, but we still remain different, each with our own special book interests. Check out the list of books the Oak Knollers are reading this summer!

What are you reading this summer? Let us know in the comments section below!

Books about Books Part 2: The Beginning (1978-1989)

July 2, 2010 Leave a comment
letter

The beginning of Oak Knoll publishing: A letter from Holland Press

Two years later, to my family’s amazement, I was still in business! My goal had been to make Oak Knoll Books the one-stop shopping place for customers who sought “book about books,” whether it was out-of-print or newly published. Stocking other publishers’ books had great potential for financial disaster, as the 40% discount I received made for a very small profit margin and the inventory had to be turned over quickly. However, goodwill was generated as my customers appreciated the effort we put into keeping them informed of the newest books in their field. This made them think of us for the out-of-print titles they wanted.

In those days, there were a few publishers of books about books who concentrated on producing reprints of the classic titles. Specialty dealers like me were experts at knowing what out-of-print titles were in constant demand by our customers and owed it to them to seek out these reprints.

An English firm called the Holland Press had been purchased by new owners and was aggressively reprinting important titles in my field, so I wrote to them for a catalogue. The catalogue arrived and was full of just the kind of books my customers wanted. I had my secretary (my one part-time employee, Karen) write to them in February 1978 inquiring about a number of their upcoming titles. One week later, an answer came back from Stephanie Hoppen (co-owner with Richard Leech), which concluded with an intriguing paragraph indicating that they were looking for someone in America to handle a reprint of the classic bibliography of printing by Bigmore & Wyman. I hand-scribbled a response onto the letter, and a number of letters and phone calls later, I arranged to buy into the print run. For the first time, Oak Knoll appeared on a title page! They also allowed me to buy their other titles at a substantial discount and market them exclusively in America. After a few meetings with them in both London and New Castle, I found out just how jovial this publishing business can be. The English publishing world is filled with long lunches with good cheer and much wine!

Proofs for the Jacket

Proofs for the jacket of Oak Knoll’s first publication

Tune in next week for more from Books about Books: A History and Bibliography of Oak Knoll Press.