Another important stepping stone in our history occurred in 1997. The long saga of St. Paul’s Bibliographies reached the end of one era and the beginning of another as Robert Cross decided to retire and sold me his company. I was especially interested in the rights to bibliographies that he had tied up via his contracts and his large stock of unsold inventory. We sold a large portion of the Publishing Pathways inventory to The British Library and gave them UK sales rights for these and future projects, and I had a series of special sales to convert inventory into cash. Robert agreed to continue on in the role of a consultant, helping us find new titles and keeping old author friends in our camp. We had a splendid event in honor of Robert at Stationers’ Hall in London, where I felt a bit overwhelmed with the history of the grand building.
During this trip to England, I traveled to the wilds of Scotland to visit Ruari McLean (1917–2006) as I heard that he had some books for sale and that he had written his autobiography. Ruari lived on the Isle of Mull, which is a rugged island off the west coast of Scotland, so it was quite an adventure to get to him. He had retired from his life in the book production business and was spending his time writing books about various subjects, while still doing some typography projects. He lived by himself (his wife had passed away) in a desolate location on the coast overlooking the sea. Getting to the Isle of Mull required taking a train to Glasgow and catching another much smaller train to the coast town of Oban, where a 45-minute ferry ride got you to Mull. Getting to Glasgow from London was easy enough; however, Ruari had not looked at the train schedule closely enough for my Thursday trip to Oban. Trains don’t run to Oban on Thursdays! So back to the hotel I went and became a tourist in Glasgow for a day.
Friday proved more successful, and I found the small train and positioned myself at the window in preparation for a scenic morning trip through the countryside. Just before leaving, a young burly Scotsman staggered into my car bringing a large bag filled with cans of beer. He had obviously been enjoying the highlights of Glasgow and was now quite well prepared for his journey back to Oban. Much to the amusement of the other passengers on the train, my car-mate started singing old Scottish songs at the top of his voice with only brief pauses to refresh himself from the slowly diminishing supply of beer that he had brought along. Song after song was sung with no sign of slowing. Finally, the conductor came through the car, and I thought my concert was surely going to be ended. “Hi Jamie,” says the conductor, “I see that you have been having fun.” With that the conductor joined him in a song, and then left for the next car. Our concert continued until the beers were gone and sleep overtook my musical friend.
The ferry to Mull from Oban had spectacular views, and Ruari was there at the ferry dock waiting in his car to drive me to his home. We looked at books he had for sale all afternoon, though none turned out to be ones that I wanted. He had already either sold or given away most of his better books. However, he still had a number of manuscripts for books that he had written that were of interest to our publishing program. He cooked a meal for me that evening preceded with and ended by a selection of single malt scotches that I could not refuse out of politeness. The next day I have a hazy recollection of seeing the island of Iona before being put back on the ferry for my long trip back to London. I met him once more when Millie and I and our youngest son Rob went to Scotland for a two-week traveling holiday in 1999. We stayed at Traquair House, the oldest Scottish castle, for a few days, and Ruari drove down to have lunch with us. He was pressing me to publish his war memoirs, but I had to turn him down. Oak Knoll Press co-published How Typography Happens (Bib. #132) with The British Library in 2000 and co-published Ruari’s autobiography True to Type (Bib. #147) with Werner Shaw at the end of 2000.
The Flecks (Millie, Rob and and I) are off to Italy tomorrow to participate in the International League of Antiquarian Bookseller’s (ILAB) Congress and Bookfair. This will be Rob’s first Congress—Millie and I have been doing them since 1990 (Tokyo, Cologne, Amsterdam, Los Angeles, Vienna, Edinburgh, Scandinavia, Melbourne, Madrid) and have met wonderful friends over the years. This year, Millie, former head coach of the A.I. DuPont High School cheerleaders, will take up her pom-pom again and lead the cheerleaders for the rest of the world when they try to beat the local Italian team (all booksellers of course). Rob will be a forward on the team and I will be cheering. We will keep you posted.
-Bob, President and Owner
Yes, I will miss my lovely girlfriend, but who can pass up a chance to visit Bolongna for a week and a half while participating in the ILAB Congress Book Fair? I’m extremely ecstatic about going to my first Congress! Being the cook at my house, I’m also particularly excited about the food experience that I will indulge myself in. Bolognese sauce was originated in Bologna, and has given me a sense of what to expect when I touch down. I also recently bought a Nikon D40 DSLR camera which I will use on my trip for documentation. See you when I get back!
-Rob, Antiquarian & Library Sales
Another example of this synergy between the publishing and antiquarian businesses was brought about by an interesting request for bookbinding titles that we received from Marianne Tidcombe, noted English author (though American-born). Marianne told me that she was working on a project to honor Bernard Middleton, the pre-imminent English bookbinder. Important bookbinders around the world would be asked to contribute a gold-tooled binding on a copy of Middleton’s memoirs that had been printed by hand by Henry Morris at his Bird & Bull Press. Twenty-five binders would be chosen and they would be paid for their work when (or if) the collection of bindings would be sold. I was asked to help find the binders, plan an Oak Knoll Press title describing this project which would be accompanied by full color plates of the bindings produced, and then sell the collection as a whole if possible, or piecemeal if it could not be sold as a collection. What a combination of antiquarian, new book, and publishing goals!
The letters to binders were sent out and 25 were chosen to participate. Each binder was asked to price their book and then produce it on schedule. The bindings were eventually mailed to London and assembled in Bernard’s living room. I flew to England to view this unbelievable collection of bindings with Marianne and Bernard. I’ll never forget the magic of walking into that room (I seem to remember candles burning in the background) and feeling the impact of seeing them as a group. We photographed them and produced a book entitled Twenty-Five Gold-Tooled Bookbindings, an International Tribute to Bernard C. Middleton’s Recollections (Bib. #78). The book was produced in a limited edition of 250 hardbound copies, 400 paperback copies, and a number of copies in sheets. The books themselves traveled as an exhibition from The British Library to Rochester, New York (Cary Collection at RIT, home of Bernard’s personal collection of books on bookbinding), and then on to the San Francisco Public Library. It was with great pleasure that I announced that I had found a private collector who was as impressed with this collection as I had been and bought it as a whole, thus preserving it intact.
We also experimented with finding ways to get a selection of our titles into the new bookstore market. We signed an agreement with the Lyons Press of New York in 1997 to act as our distributor for our popular titles (Carter’s ABC for Book Collectors was the star in the line). This company produced an interesting collection of books of their own and distributed a few, selected small publishers. Nick Lyons proved to be a real bookman and gentleman of the old school of publishing with great personal interest in fly-fishing and the production of limited edition books in that field. We increased the print runs of the titles that we gave to them in hopes that they would sell well. The Carter sold extremely well and others sold moderately well. Eventually we discovered that we were mostly just circulating money without much profit coming back to us. The large jobbers tended to order large numbers of copies of books in the hopes of selling them and then sent them all back to Lyons if they didn’t sell. The jobbers demanded large discounts, returned damaged books and didn’t need to worry about their order size since they weren’t paying for the books to begin with. We ended our relationship with the Lyons Press in April of 2000 and put the other distributors on a “proforma” basis and elected to do what we do best—market and sell directly to the end customer.
Check back Friday for more from Books about Books.
Alas, bibliophiles and blog-followers, it is time for me to end my sojourn in the antiquarian book world. For those of you who read my first post (Thanks to those who commented!), you know that I am going to get married soon. My wedding will be on September 18th, and after that I will be moving with my bride to Mount Joy, PA in Lancaster County, after which I will be busy looking for a new job while cooking wonderful meals for me and my working wife. On that note, if any of you needs a polite and responsible Customer Service and Problem Solver person, I know of a guy…
But enough with the shameless self-marketing. I have had a good journey here at Oak Knoll, from my time as a part-time Book Cataloguer during my college years to the present where I have served as the Head of Customer Service, Problem Solver, and Bookkeeper. I have been exposed to many new things and ideas here in this jungle of bibliomania, and I have made my own small contributions to the Oak Knoll culture as well, the most important of which has been my role as Founder and Head Serviceman of CFTMMT, (or Chinese Food Thursday Morale Management Technique), which has significantly boosted employee morale. I just hope that my legacy remains and that someone will be able to carry on the banner and build upon where I left off. In the end, I am satisfied because the circle is now complete, and my last day will be the best day of the week…Chinese Food Thursday.
For your reading pleasure, I leave you now with this limerick tercet which I believe partially represents my time here:
To you patrons with problems and doubts
It’s best not to shout, flout, or pout
There is a good chance
With an ounce of patience
That your problems will sort themselves out.
I’m a Book-keeper in a bookstore
and I’m one of the best you’ll look for
Books don’t get out of line
And I keep them confined
So how come the money’s no more?
My thanks to Oak Knoll and its staff
For all of the memories and laughs
We have had tons of fun
And we’ve barely begun
So let’s pour from another carafe!
–Tim, Bookkeeping and Customer Service
Next week we will introduce Barbara, Oak Knoll’s new bookkeeper, and Chris, our new problem solver!
Under the Good Ship von Hoelle (1996-2006), continued.
John made sure we got more involved with international trade shows. The British Library’s presence at the London Book Fair in the spring of each year gave us the opportunity to travel there to be part of the excitement and even borrow a table and chair on occasion to meet with one of our authors. John was a fixture at this spring event and always managed to visit family in Wales during this time. David Way also helped guide us through the intricacies of the Frankfurt International Book Fair where Oak Knoll had a booth. Every publisher should exhibit at this Fair at least once, as it is an event that cannot be forgotten.
Back in the US, we published the first in a series of titles written by the New York antiquarian booksellers Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine Stern (Bib. #65) in which they reminiscence about their lengthy experience buying and selling rare books. They wrote with charm and painted vivid portraits of many of the famous collectors and dealers of their day. I had known them for a long time and had even reprinted a series of their catalogues as one of our first publications (Bib. #4). They had proposed me for membership in the ABAA in 1978. Over the years we published five of their titles including New Worlds in Old Books. This excellent book was distributed as a gift by Brigham Young University to all members of the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) in tribute to these two fine booksellers. Near the end of their long and productive lives, they submitted a manuscript to us that I felt needed additional work. I called them and talked over my thoughts as gently as I could but my suggested changes were not well received. Much to my regret, they did not talk to me again before they died.
On a happier note, I want to give an example of how the antiquarian business helped the publishing business. As I was President of the ABAA in 1997, I flew to the President’s Meeting in Sydney, Australia with Millie. This was my first trip to Australia, and it was a beautiful experience much enhanced by the warm nature of the Australians. I had gotten to know a number of the other Presidents at the various congresses that Millie and I had attended. The leader of the Japanese book market was Mitsuo Nitta, whose father had started Yushodo, a bookselling-publishing firm in Japan in 1932. Mitsuo is a very special person with great people skills and an aggressive business drive. He has taken his company to new heights while still taking part in many ILAB meetings. He is so highly thought of by the ILAB that he was one of the few booksellers ever named as a Member of Honour of the League. I had previously discussed with Mitsuo the possibility of Yushodo distributing Oak Knoll Press books into the Japanese market, and he invited me to Japan after the Sydney meeting to meet with his various company executives to discuss the proposal. Millie flew back to the States, while I flew to Japan and booked into a small hotel next to his business. I then spent the next three days meeting the various department heads and gaining an understanding of how business methods differed in Japan from America. Richard Carpenter, their English language translator, was assigned to look after me and proved to be a real God-send as he took a liking to me and helped guide me through the intricacies of Japanese business protocol.
Three days of interacting with each department head led to a final dinner in which I was formally told that Yushodo would distribute our titles. This formal acceptance was accompanied by a rather large order of books!
Check back Friday for more from Books about Books.