John cranked up the publishing program to 17 titles in 1998 and 23 in 1999. We were especially happy to publish Jane Greenfield’s ABC of Bookbinding (Bib. #84) as it fit in well with our other ABC book. Jane’s Headbands (Bib. #26) had appeared in a second edition with us in 1990 and still sells well today. Jane has recently passed away and will be missed by all.
We published Anthony Rota’s Apart from the Text in 1999 (Bib. #105). Anthony (and his wife Jean) and I went back a long way in the book business starting with the day he helped me purchase the remaining inventory of Deval and Muir. He was a Past President of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association (England) and was on the Committee and eventually President of ILAB. He often counseled me on the politics of this group and mentored me in every way he could. A dinner with Jean and Anthony (don’t dare call him Tony) was always full of great food, great wine, and charming talk. He tried to keep me from being too aggressive in my plans for carrying forward my ILAB agenda and sometimes I listened and acted in accord, and sometimes I didn’t. None of this affected our good feelings and trust for one another. We also published his autobiographical Books in the Blood (Bib. #179) in 2002, which is an excellent read.
The 26 titles published in 2000 was our new record for number of books published in a year, but what made it a special year was the publication of The Great Libraries: From Antiquity to the Renaissance by Konstantinos Staikos. Kostas Staikos is a well-known Greek architect and historian with an abiding love for the history of libraries. In his spare time, he had formed a remarkable private collection of books tracking the development of Greek printing throughout the world, rescued a Greek letterpress printing shop, and become part owner of a large, modern printing plant in Greece. To call him a true Renaissance man is probably an understatement.
One day Andy Armacost, our Director of Antiquarian Sales (1995-2004) fielded an incoming call from Mr. Staikos, who asked if we would be interested in publishing an English language history of the library that he had written and published in Greek. Andy turned the call over to John von Hoelle who listened with respect, but also with the reserve that must be used for all authors calling out of the blue with potential major publishing projects. We had no idea why this man had chosen to ask Oak Knoll Press to publish his book until a call later in the week by Nick Basbanes about another matter shed some light. Nick had visited Staikos in Greece to interviewe him for a book about collectors. His mention of Oak Knoll Press must have resonated with Kostas and resulted in that phone call.
Kostas’s book has become one of our all-time best sellers, which was surprising to us as the price of $125 was higher than most of our titles. It was so well produced and beautifully illustrated that it captured the spirit of our book world. It went into a second printing and laid the foundation for Kostas’s series entitled The History of the Library in Western Civilization, which will be six volumes when finally completed (Kostas is working on volume four at present [update—he’s now finishing volumes 5 & 6!]). This work is an obvious labor of love by a dedicated bibliophile and scholar. Each of the three volumes to date has received critical acclaim from the library world.
Oak Knoll was recently made aware of some great photos taken during the “football” game at the 39th ILAB Congress in Italy. These booksellers put on quite the competition as it was Italy against the rest of the world. They even had cheerleaders on the sidelines rallying these already vigorous and sporty antiquarian booksellers. Check out a few of the pictures from the game. Don’t miss Rob (#19) in action and Millie cheering on the teams!
After taking a break for a month to prepare for and recover from Oak Knoll Fest, we are now back to our weekly excerpt from Books about Books. The story continues…
A traumatic change in our lives occurred in 1998, when we moved the business one block up the street to the third floor of the massive building called the New Castle Opera House. We had moved from Newark to 414 Delaware Street in New Castle in 1979, up the street to 212 Delaware, down the street to a renovated 414 Delaware, and now we had run out of room again. We had a three-story Victorian building with a finished basement full of books and had to get them all to the third floor of the Opera House at 310 Delaware Street.
I had walked past this huge Opera House every day while walking to work. The building had been built by the Masons in 1879 and was typical of many such buildings that have survived to this day. The Masons would create an opera house with high ceilings and a stage on the second floor, meeting space on the third floor, and shops on the first floor that were leased to pay for the building. Each floor contained about 5000 square feet of usable space. Annie Oakley and other famous nineteenth- and twentieth-century actors and performers had danced, sung, and acted on the still-present, well-preserved stage. The first floor had seen a number of businesses come and go during the period I had my business in town including grocery stores, antique stores, and restaurants. There was a cooperative antique mall and tea room on the second floor. However, there was no elevator in the building and the very high ceilings (22 feet on second floor and 11 feet on the third floor) made the third floor a very difficult space to rent. The property owner was a very nice fellow who owned a large computer business in Pennsylvania and had bought the building as an investment property. He had originally worked as a stock boy in the grocery/convenience store that had been on the first floor, so he had fond memories of New Castle. He had spent some serious money preserving the building but it still lacked the essential elevator, modern air conditioning, and heating for the third floor.
I approached the owner and suggested that I would be willing to lease the third floor if he would put in an elevator and modernize the space. The third floor space was empty at that point and wasn’t earning the owner a dime. We worked out the details over the next number of months and signed a basic five-year lease with renewal options in the spring of 1998 with a move-in date of August, as that is when the elevator was to be completed. Hiring Office Movers, Inc., turned out to be a good idea, as the elevator wasn’t finished for another month after our move in and wouldn’t have been nearly as efficient as the moving van/huge crane/and men hanging out the third floor window scheme that they used. The move was disruptive to business, as might be imagined, as all the books had to be put away again in the new space.
The problem of owning an empty 414 Delaware Street proved not to be a problem at all, but a sales opportunity. While teaching at the Rare Book School in Colorado Springs in 1997, I had announced my intention to move my business in New Castle and thus could offer a ready made bookstore all set for a new owner. And the new owner would get the mentoring of an established business right up the street! This appealed to James Goode, one of the students, who bought the building and set up his book business specializing in the sale of rare books on architecture. James fit right into the social life of New Castle, but was more a scholarly author, researcher, and aficionado of the rose than a bookseller and moved back to Washington, DC, three years later, after selling the building to someone who made it into the Velocipede Museum it is today. The money I got from the sale was used to buy a nice beach-front property that Millie and I continue to enjoy.
I’m Sanjay. I’m a medical student. But I’m taking some time off from that right now, and while I do, I’m here at Oak Knoll shelving books that need shelving and finding books on the shelf that need finding. A weekend or two ago, I had the pleasure of working at and attending my first Oak Knoll Fest. While I am pretty clueless about the world of bibliophilia, something about the fest felt warmly familiar.
Now, besides being an aspiring med student and book shelving technician, I’m also a webcomic writer. For three years, I have drawn a comic every day and put it on the internet. In doing so, I became part of a pretty fantastic community of comic writers. By taking to the web, we can self-publish, explore the form and content of a comic in ways that would be impossible on paper, and reach niche audiences who appreciate it.
And though private presses are celebrating and expanding everything that can be done with print, while webcomics are silently eroding the medium, as I listened to the Sunday speakers, I was struck by similarities. Martyn Ould’s talk about his misadventures in printing got plenty of laughs about things I don’t understand in the least. It worked because Oak Knoll Fest brought together like-minded people in the same way the internet does. While most people wouldn’t understand why dampening certain types of paper before printing on them is a terrible idea (I don’t), that doesn’t matter when you have a room full of private press printers to laugh at such foolishness. And when Russell Maret talked about finding a perfect marriage of type and content in the face of big commercial presses that don’t get it, it reminded me of the same explorations of comic form that are possible when you ditch the big comic companies.
I only wish there was a webcomic parallel to sneaking to the Thames in the dead of night to dump all your typesetting equipment into a river, forever saving your type from being commercialized. Amazing.
I had a great time at Oak Knoll Fest. Most of the time I was sitting in the bookstore, listening to blues music, waiting to help a customer. I even had time while I wasn’t helping any to draw my comic for the day. It was a fantastic weekend and my only regret is that I didn’t have more time to get to visit the exhibitors.
Thanks for reading. Maybe I’ll find a book for you one of these days!
-Sanjay, Book Shelving Technician
Hello everyone! As a senior English major at The University of Delaware, I am pleased to be sitting at my first internship desk and writing my first Biblio-Blog entry at Oak Knoll. I’ve only been traveling into Old New Castle for a week, and already I have been exposed to more of the book world than ever before.
Luckily for me, I came in at the most exciting time of the year—Oak Knoll Fest. I had never put much thought into how intricate the process of creating a book could be, but as I witnessed the creativity and the quality of materials used throughout the exhibit hall, I was blown away. I’m so used to reading my favorite stories, like “The Yellow Wallpaper,” in dull, chunky textbooks, and there it was in front of me, a unique and delicate copy of the book with beautiful pages of yellow wallpaper placed throughout. If only every story and its book could be so inspiring.
Although I was reluctant to place my favorite copy of “The Yellow Wallpaper” back onto the table and walk away, I will always look back to it when I think of how beautiful a book can be.
Like the artists and their books displayed at Oak Knoll Fest, I am sure Oak Knoll has a great deal of pleasant surprises and learning experiences in store for me, and I am sure that I will take in and come to love every single one.
I look forward to our time together, Oak Knoll family!