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An Excerpt from Field & Tuer: The Leadenhall Press

February 25, 2011 1 comment

Earlier this week, Matthew McLennan Young shared with us some of the post-publication discoveries he made after publishing his book, Field & Tuer, The Leadenhall Press. Now read an excerpt from Field & Tuer that discusses the effect women employees had on the Press’s output. It includes a section where Mabel (a Field & Tuer author) explains her experiences working with publisher Andrew Tuer.

The press employed women and girls, and their skills are reflected in the designs of a number of books, several of them bound in patterned cloth: Rus in Urbe (1886) and Our Grandmothers’ Gowns (1884) in floral cloth with paper labels and ribbon ties; the privately printed Diary J.A.H.M. (1886), in Japanese-style velvet with printed silk endpapers; and Views of English Society by a little girl of eleven (1886), which has an unusual sewn turn-in construction designed by the author, Mabel, who also drew the illustrations. In her last chapter, “How to Get a Book Printed,” and an addendum, Mabel offers observations of Andrew Tuer that are worth quoting at length. She tells (not unlike Jerome K. Jerome) of disappointing visits to surly or unresponsive publishers, manuscript in hand and Cummings, the family maid, in tow, and of finally arriving at the Leadenhall offices:

‘I found myself in the presence of a gentleman who reminded me of an amiable curate we once had; he spoke naturally, not just in set speeches as the other publisher had done. He wore a clerical waistcoat, and had on one of those bendey sort of collars, which I suppose are made of india-rubber and slip on over the head, for I have never been able to discover how they fasten. He was very brisk, and had such keen eyes that I think they looked straight through the cover of a book and saved him the trouble of opening it. He seemed to know all about mine in a minute. He made a few remarks about it, and even went so far as to say I was a clever little girl, and…explained to me that instead of my paying him, as I expected to do, he was going to pay me.’

She then recounts her proposal of the binding design to Tuer:

Andrew W. Tuer

Andrew W. Tuer

‘I took it to my publisher and told him if he liked it, and would give me sufficient time, I would make them all. I supposed he would want twenty or perhaps even as many as thirty. He looked very quizzical and asked if I would undertake to make two or three thousand. At first I thought he was making fun of me, but I found he was quite in earnest, so I could only shake my head and tell him that was quite impossible. I feared I should have to put up with those uninteresting cloth things with gilt letters, just like other people’s books, but the dark-eyed young man helped me out of the difficulty by saying there were lots of little girls in his factory who had to earn their bread-and-butter, and that they could make the covers quite as well as I could if I would leave the one I had made as a pattern for them to copy.’

One other book that features work by women’s hands was The Follies & Fashions of Our Grandfathers (1886-7), which has embroidered silk labels on the cover and spine, floral-patterned cloth endpapers, and a cloth bookmarks with the title of the book embroidered on both sides. This work is also an example of Tuer’s affection for limited editions.

Click here for more information on Field & Tuer: The Leadenhall Press.

The Last of the Great Swashbucklers on Display

February 24, 2011 Leave a comment

Last of the Great SwashbucklersUntil March 1, the North Haven Public Library in Connecticut is displaying Oak Knoll’s publication, The Last of the Great Swashbucklers: A Bio-Bibliography of Rafael Sabatini by Steven Darley and the late Jesse F. Knight,  as well as other Rafael Sabatini material. Also accompanying the display is a photograph of author Steven Darley, a Connecticut resident. We are happy Darley’s local library is supporting our publication as well as Darley’s hard work in creating such a fascinating book.

As Rafael Sabatini was known and is still remembered for capturing the imagination of  many through his stories filled with intrigues, romantic loves, devilish plots, and sword play, this display is a tribute to Sabatini, the master of romantic historical novels, as well as to Mr. Darley and Mr. Knight. Thanks to their work, Sabatini’s life and works can be remembered and further understood.

Click here for more information on The Last of the Great Swashbucklers: A Bio-Bibliography of Rafael Sabatini.

Bibliographical Jots and Jingles

February 23, 2011 Leave a comment

Matthew McLennan Young, author of Field & Tuer, The Leadenhall Press: A Checklist, shares with us his post-publication discovery of the cover and prospectus for the Leadenhall Press publication, Horn-Book Jingles.

Every bibliographer must be prepared for post-publication discovery. In my case, I hoped for it. I had stumbled upon and been captivated by an imaginative and energetic late Victorian London publisher whose history was all but unrecorded, yet who (I was to learn) enjoyed worldwide respect in his lifetime and was at the forefront of the revival of fine printing during the 1880s. Since the publisher’s archives did not survive, and prior scholarship was sketchy at best, I was curious to see what new information might come to light as a result of my efforts. I did not have to wait long.

Prospectus for Horn-Book Jingles (1896-7) (Photo courtesy of Peter Lobbenberg)

Prospectus for Horn-Book Jingles (1896-7) (Photo courtesy of Peter Lobbenberg)

Last June, shortly after my book appeared, a London chartered accountant named Peter Lobbenberg contacted me to say, “I was thrilled to discover, just today, your book on Andrew Tuer and the Leadenhall Press. I have immediately ordered it from Oak Knoll. I was blissfully unaware that there were other Leadenhall Press fans apart from me!” He was immediately able to correct me on a couple of relatively minor points and add several items to my list of known ephemera. No wonder: Peter has what may well be the most remarkable collection of Leadenhall Press books in private hands, including proof copies with original art, association copies, correspondence, prints, and scarce ephemera. Among the latter is the one-page prospectus for Horn-Book Jingles by Mrs. Arthur (Georgie) Gaskin, an item I had listed but not been able to locate, as well as a four-page version with order form that I had not found in my research. Peter and I now carry on a regular email dialogue on various aspects of the Press, its publications, and associations. I look forward to seeing his treasures some day soon.

Cover of Horn-Book Jingles and the original artwork by Georgie Gaskin (Photo used with permission of the Cotsen Children's Library, Princeton University Library)

Not two weeks after first hearing from Peter, I received an email from Andrea Immel, Curator of the Cotsen Children’s Library at Princeton, in which she wrote, “I discovered that some years ago Mr. Cotsen purchased all the artwork by Georgie Gaskin for the Leadenhall Press Horn-book Jingles. This is a horrible thing to do to a bibliographer who has just published a magnum opus, but I thought you’d rather know they survived than not!” I couldn’t have been more thrilled. A few days later I was able to compare the original art (drawn and hand-lettered on 73 sheets of card) with the printed pages and take photographs for reference. In turn, I was able to provide Andrea with additional provenance going back to the sale of part of Andrew Tuer’s collection after his death, at Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge on July 17, 1900. (The drawings went to Maggs for £3, 3s.) As a result, I have been invited to provide a cover note for an upcoming issue of the Princeton University Library Chronicle.

Every discovery and bit of shared knowledge contributes to a more complete history of a publisher whose books deserve to be remembered and enjoyed today. I hope that, in due course, there will be enough new information to warrant a revised edition or addendum. In the mean time, I’m jotting down notes!

-Matthew McLennan Young

Click here to learn more about Matthew’s book, Field & Tuer, The Leadenhall Press.

A mention from the New York Times

February 22, 2011 Leave a comment

The Caxton Club publication, Other People’s Books: Association Copies and the Stories They Tell, distributed by Oak Knoll, was mentioned in The New York Times in an article titled, “Book Lovers Fear Dim Future for Notes in the Margins.” Click here to read the article and click here to find out more information on the book.

San Francisco recap

February 18, 2011 Leave a comment
Author Steven Abbott with Publishing Director Laura Williams

Author Steven Abbott with Publishing Director Laura Williams

This past weekend, Rob and I were privileged to represent Oak Knoll at the antiquarian book fair in San Francisco. It was great to meet new people and to match faces with names of people I’ve corresponded with extensively, like Steven Abbott, author of our Gore Vidal bibliography. The book fair was a success, both in terms of sales and in terms of the experience that Rob and I gained and the contacts we made. I just got a small taste of the city of San Francisco, so I hope to be able to visit again sometime to explore it further!

– Laura Williams

An excerpt from Books for Sale: The Advertising and Promotion of Print since the Fifteenth Century

February 14, 2011 1 comment

Books for SaleThis excerpt from Books for Sale: The Advertising and Promotion of Print since the Fifteenth Century edited by Robin Myers, Michael Harris and Giles Mandelbrote discusses the dust jacket and how its role has developed through history.

Despite recognizing the real commercial significance of book jackets in the post-war period, Blond does not consider their importance as works of art. Tanselle sounds slightly aggrieved about this distraction from serious bibliography in his articles published in 1971 and 2003. As a bibliographer, he may be right. Many admirers of book jackets would find travel posters of the same period equally entertaining. However, the contribution made by artists, especially in the 1920s and 1930s, was exceptional and we should not be apologetic about it. This has never had a clear correspondence to their commercial

function. Various types of artists were involved. Some, such as E. McKnight Kauffer, Barnett Freedman, Edward Bawden or Rex

The cover of Stones of Rimini designed by Ben Nicholson

The cover of Stones of Rimini designed by Ben Nicholson

Whistler, were highly skilled and inventive. They shared a literary proclivity, and happened to find jacket design a congenial task with useful commercial rewards. Other artists attempted book jackets only rarely, and usually out of friendship with the author which was tolerated by the publisher—such as the jacket by Ben Nicholson for Stones of Rimini by Adrian Stokes, published by Faber & Faber in 1934. This is a surrealistic photomontage—fascinating as an example of Lye’s work, and related to his experimental films of the period, but only distantly related to the content of the book and surely too avant-garde for most of its readers to appreciate.

Book jackets could, however, become important as carriers of avant-garde styles into the homes and minds of people who would not have encountered these forms of art. The process began early, with the abstract simplification of form that suited clear colour printing, and kept in step with the cultural aspirations of publishers. Between 1945 and 1952, the series of covers by Alvin Lustig for New Directions books in the USA, which were academic paperbacks of literary texts, made a particular mark for their use of freely drawn abstract forms, aptly matched to the mood of the title.

Cover of Lanscape into Art designed by Graham Sutherland

The cover of Lanscape into Art designed by Graham Sutherland

In Britian, hand-drawn lettering, with little or no drawm imagery, was popular in the interwar period. The revival of calligraphy and fine lettering began after 1900 with the teaching of Edward Johnston, and many students acquired these skills from Johnston’s successors. Notable designers were Michael Harvey and Madeleine Dinkel. Hans Tisdall, who designed many jackets for Jonathan Cape, came from Germany in the 1930s, having trained as a signwriter, and the long fluid strokes of his letters are from a completely different background from Johnston’s. Tisdall’s work has returned to fashion, probably following on from Michael Harvey’s article in baseline no. 37 (2002), and has been cleverly pastiched in the book covers of Sarah Waters’s novel.

Today, book jackets and paperback covers have an important role as metonyms in online bookselling, where they are invariable reproduced as part of the sales information. Recently, book reviews in newspapers and magazines have used thumbnail images of jackets in a similar way. Here the image is all and the shop is only virtual, although a subliminal memory of the design may help the distracted bookshop visitor to recall a positive or negative comment from weeks or months earlier when considering whether or not to buy. Posters of historic book jackets are displayed in shops advertised in color supplements.

Cover of Goodbye to All That designed by Len Lye

The cover of Goodbye to All That designed by Len Lye

Publishers seem to have awoken to a revived interest in design. They seldom seek to impose a house style, but are more inclined to play up individual titles to emphasize their genre. In doing this, pastiche is rife, and it seems that the revival in the historiography of book jackets of the past ten years has begun to feed back into the designs of today.

Click here for more information on how to order Books for Sale.

The Oak Knoll Repricing Saga

February 10, 2011 21 comments

The Internet has had a dramatic effect on the prices and availability of antiquarian books. This is great news for the consumer but has required some serious thinking by all of us “old-timers” in the business (I started selling books about books in 1976).

What happens when you consistently sell David Randall’s Dukedom Large Enough for $45 for a number of years (fine in dust jacket) but then go on-line today and find it being sold for $18 by other booksellers?

Bob Fleck

This scenario was starting to happen often enough that I decided to sit down one night (November 2009) next to a shelf of my books and analyze how my prices compared to those of other dealers. This process was accompanied by a bottle of wine, of course, to ease my work. I took each book off the shelf and compared it to the search result for that book using Vialibri.net (the best of the out-of-print search engines, in my opinion). I made sure I was comparing “apples to apples” by eliminating POD (print on demand) copies and making sure that the edition and condition were as close as possible. My test case showed that my copy was infrequently the lowest priced copy on the web, more often higher in price than a comparable copy, and sometimes was lost in a vast number of $1 to $5 copies of the same book.

I have always made a point of making sure that I price my books fairly, as long-time customer relationships are very important to me. I want my customers to know that when they see a book that I list, they can feel confident that a search for that book in the inventory of other dealers will show that Oak Knoll knows their business and understands the principles of supply and demand. Because this is my specialty, throughout the years I have seen more copies of books about books than any other dealer, making me, in a way, the arbitrator of the prices. I know what books sell well consistently and what books don’t, and I have priced material accordingly.

However, my analysis showed me that I needed to lower my prices for the majority of our books. But what would my customers think? How would they react to seeing books that they had purchased from me over the last year or so listed at a lower (sometimes significantly) price? Would they understand the dynamics of the new Internet market?

My first plan was to have a series of sales of material in the $75 to $100 range. I started posting sales on the Internet that offered a 60% discount on the group of books chosen. The sales did well, as everyone likes a sale. However, when I really looked at what was selling and what wasn’t, I found that the arbitrary discount being offered was much too much in some cases, much too little in some cases, and about right in a few cases. Back to my shelves I went (with another bottle of wine), and I spent a few days doing a thorough analysis of the books. As much as I dreaded the conclusion, it was obvious that I had to do a complete physical inventory and price analysis OF EVERY SINGLE BOOK IN MY INVENTORY (then currently about 24,000). It was an ugly thought, as it would take a huge amount of time to complete the process.

Oak Knoll Books

Oak Knoll Books

We can now fast-forward 13 months to today, when the task is done! Every one of the books has been taken off the shelf, looked up using Vialibri.net, and had the price adjusted or re-affirmed. A side effect of this process of examining each book in the physical inventory was the dozens of interesting books we discovered that had become lost over the years. We also used the opportunity to make sure we took an image of the book for the website, as images give the customer additional confidence in the quality of the book.

What was the result?

14% went to $5. This section is the fastest selling section of the re-priced books

58% decreased in retail price with the average price decreasing by 51%

25% stayed the same

3% increased in retail price

We now have about 22,000 books for sale as many of the re-priced books have already sold. I’m confident that I can now announce to the world that shopping at Oak Knoll Books can be done with confidence in our darn good competitive prices.

Now go to our web site and see what I mean!

http://www.oakknoll.com/

Best wishes

Bob Fleck

Ps I have not had one person email me about all the prices changes. I think the consumer understands the massive change in book-selling caused by the Internet.