Archive for January, 2012

Interview of Bob Fleck

January 30, 2012 Leave a comment

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.



Book-Jackets reviewed by The Washington Post and Book Patrol

January 26, 2012 Leave a comment

Posted today in The Washington Post is an excellent review by Michael Dirda of Book-Jackets: Their History, Forms, and Use written by G. Thomas Tanselle.

Dirda, who refers to Tanselle as the “leading authority on all matters bibliographical, the greatest American textual scholar since Fredson Bowers,” explains the book as “a superb work of scholarly investigation, broad enough to touch on the development of blurbs, the artists involved in early cover design and the need for accurate description of dust jackets in library catalogues.”

Another review by the Book Patrol blog posted yesterday says the book “provides a thorough history of a books most valuable friend and can easily prove useful for the bookseller, book collector or any lover of books.”

Illustrated with sections containing black-and-white and color plates, this new book offers a concise history of publishers’ detachable book coverings while surveying their use by publishers and their usefulness to scholars as sources for biography, bibliography, and cultural analysis. It contains a list of surviving pre-1901 examples of British and American publishers’ printed book-jackets and constitutes a plea for the preservation and cataloguing of this significant class of material.

Click here for more information on the book.

Check out the full review in the The Washington Post, and click here to read the review in Book Patrol.

A fair for map lovers

January 23, 2012 Leave a comment

On February 4 and 5, HistoryMiami will host the Miami International Map Fair at 101 West Flagler Street, Miami, FL. The fair will feature antique maps, rare books, panoramas, and atlases from around the world.

There are over 40 participating dealers such as Fair Winds Antique Maps, Maps of Antiquity, New World Maps, Inc, The Library of Congress, and others. With admission only $5 for HistoryMiami members and $15 for non-members, the fair is the perfect opportunity to peruse and purchase antique maps from some of the finest dealers in the world.

The Miami International Map Fair was originally created to foster an appreciation of historic maps through exhibitions, publications, and educational programming. It has continued to remain an exceptional fair showcasing many wonderful maps including the earliest printed maps of Florida, the New World, and Cuba.

Click here to learn more about the fair, and click here to view Oak Knoll’s cartography page featuring all of our books on this subject.

An excerpt from The Restoration of Leather Bindings

January 18, 2012 Leave a comment

The craft of bookbinding encompasses a wealth of procedures, techniques, approaches, and skills. The celebrated title The Restoration of Leather Bindings by Bernard C. Middleton provides definitions, tools, materials, instructions, and more for how to restore bindings. One section of the book discusses the restoration of antiquarian books, and more specifically, the restoration of vellum bindings. See what Middleton says about cleaning and coloring vellum covers. He gives some great tips to remember!

The Restoration of Vellum Bindings

 Cleaning. Minor cleaning of vellum covers can be done by dry means, but if the cleaning is to be really effective it is necessary to use aqueous solutions; in general, these are not recommended and should be employed only by experienced restorers. Saddle soap or other high-quality soaps can be used, but a cardinal rule, if the stability of gold tooling and ink inscriptions is not to be adversely affected, is to keep pressure and moisture to a minimum, so soapy swabs should be damp rather than wet, and rinsing with damp cotton wool should follow quickly. Milk is sometimes used for the cleaning of vellum because the fat content helps to obviate roughening of its surface, but there is some objection to this on the grounds that in an unsatisfactory environment it may give rise to microbiological problems. Ink inscriptions are best avoided altogether and certainly any rubbing should be very light and brief because many are easily marred or even completely removed.

Vellum-covered Boards. Technically, vellum bindings are treated in much the same way as leather-covered ones, but a few points are worth mentioning in relation to rebacking. One is that if, as is often the case, the old vellum is lined with paper which is loose, the new vellum should underlie both the old vellum and its paper lining on the sides, otherwise the new vellum is likely to show through darkly when the old vellum is stuck down on to it. It is easy inadvertently to position the new vellum between the two layers.

Much modern vellum has little stretch, so it is often quite difficult to form it over prominent rasied bands and to make it stick between them, so tying-up cords may need to have considerable tension. The cord may also need to be kept in position for several hours, and there is no problem about this because there is no danger that the old vellum on the sides will be discoloured by contact with the wet new vellum which is certainly a hazard in the case of leather-covered bindings. If the raised bands are very large, as they tend to be on old Dutch books, and the new vellum is intractable even after much soaking with paste, some creasing of the vellum on the sides may results, but if these cause unsightly ridges they can be sliced off when dry without detriment to the strength of the work. The surface of the new vellum should be scratched and scraped where it underlies the old vellum on the sides and the spine, if any, so that firm adhesion with paste of PVA is aided. Pressure can be protracted unless there is danger that blind tooling will be obliterated, in which case the book can be put between backing boards in the lying-press after the first few minutes so that pressure is then localized at the edge of the old vellum.

Colouring of the new vellum can be done very satisfactorily with spirit stains, the technique being to apply the stain with a swab of cotton wool and then to rub it almost immediately in a circular  motion with clean cotton wool as the stain dries, which it does fairly quickly. If this is done too soon the stain may be removed, and if it is too long delayed streaking may result. Staining is best done on the book so that local variations of tone and density can be made to match the ageing of the original vellum. At one time, much green vellum was used, especially on blank books used for estate accounts, and the like. If matching vellum is not available one’s own green staining should be done before the vellum is pasted on so that inaccessible parts do not show white, and then local colouring can be done at a later stage.

The headcaps on many antiquarian vellum bindings were made by tying cord around the fore edge of the book and the back of the headband, and then bending the vellum back against the cord so that the vellum is at right angles to the line of the backbone instead of knocking the vellum over on to the headband form a conventional cap. This better suits the nature of the material.

If the boards are warping outwards very badly it is likely that the only satisfactory remedy will be to remove the edges of the boards and then replace the vellum as described on page 184 for leather-covered bindings.

Click here for more information on The Restoration of Leather Bindings.

eBook Treasures from The British Library

January 16, 2012 Leave a comment

Have you seen The British Library’s new specialty, “ebook Treasures?” This type of ebook, available for the iPad, iPhone (3GS and 4) and iPod Touch (3rd and 4th generations), allows some of The British Library’s finest, most treasured manuscripts to be viewed in detail right from your handheld device.

Making these manuscripts downloadable and visible even offline, the ebook Treasures contain text, video and audio interpretation to provide a close-up view of manuscripts. Some ebook Treasures now available include The Bedford Hours, Medieval Bestiary (highlights version), and Henry VIII’s Psalter.

Click here for more information about ebook Treasures and for more publications available in this format.


Resolutions of the Oak Knollers

January 12, 2012 Leave a comment

Oak Knoll is excited to kick off 2012 with a set of New Year’s resolutions. We have each taken time to think of ways we can improve over the next year, and we wanted to share our ideas with you. Check out what we plan to do in the upcoming year.

Big Bob’s New Year Resolutions (President and Owner)

Ah, there are so many that I should have made but didn’t. At least I haven’t broken any of them yet.

I need to learn to smile when a person is standing in my book store and asks “Do you buy books?” I guess they think that my books breed with each other in the late evening hours.

I need to learn to smile when the phone caller asks me the value of a book that has been in the family for decades but they can’t remember the full title or author. Bless Jim Hinck and as now I can just recommend that they visit that site.

I need to learn to smile when the person on the phone says that the book must go out that day, as it is a birthday present for his or her husband/wife/child in two days hence. Nothing like advance planning!

But wait – I’m actually smiling all the time because I have the greatest group here at Oak Knoll and have loved being a bookseller for 35 years. I smile when I come to work – how many people can say that?

Rob Fleck (Antiquarian & Library Sales)

Last year, we purchased two exciting collections from two long-time Oak Knoll customers. These collections helped make 2011 a great year for us and for you, our customers, by adding many important and rare books to our inventory. Our main goal for 2012 is to branch out to individuals or institutions that have collections that they would be willing to part with. We hope that 2012 will be the year of collection acquisition for Oak Knoll. It’s actually all very exciting to me! Send me an email at if you have a collection that you’d like us to see.

Laura Williams (Publishing Director)

This year I would like to discover more manuscripts and encourage more potential authors to write new books on the history of the book. We are particularly interested in new manuscripts on bookbinding, book collecting, printing, and typography, but please feel free to propose any project that could be considered a “book about books.” If you have a manuscript or a book idea, please check out our website and send me an email at I look forward to hearing from you, so don’t hesitate to contact me! I also plan to continue on the tradition of being the Oak Knoll party planner (or as Bob calls it “the Oak Knoll social butterfly”), as it’s one of my favorite roles here at work.

Danielle Burcham (Publishing and Marketing Assistant)

It’s been almost two years since I started working at Oak Knoll, and I have learned quite a bit since my first day! While at first it seemed like it took all my time just to learn the ins and outs of the book business, this year I plan to really focus my attention on expanding our audiences. This means finding new businesses and individuals who would have an interest in our books but haven’t yet heard of us. I hope to find more organizations and journals who would like to review our books, and I plan on using our social media platforms to facilitate this. If you haven’t hopped on the social media train yet, what are you waiting for? Follow us through facebook, twitter, and our blog. There is a lot to learn about us just through these sites alone!

James McKinstry (Cataloguing, Photography
& Customer Service)

While I will continue to maintain my responsibilities cataloging books, taking photographs (in our new and updated style), and providing customer service, I also plan to use my research skills to help our publishing department. I will explore library holdings and assist libraries in finding titles to add to their collections, while also finding new groups who might have an interest in our titles. I may even get more involved with our shipping department, helping to pull and pack books. I guess you could say I have my hand in a little bit of everything that goes on here at Oak Knoll.

Jeanette Sikes(Orders, Invoices, and the “Work Grandma”)

Considering that I was raised in the image of Mary Poppins, (you know, “Practically Perfect in Every Way”), I failed to see the need for any New Year’s Resolutions. Fortunately, my colleagues quickly disabused me of that notion, so here I sit pondering my role at Oak Knoll and trying to understand how I can make your interactions with us the best possible. First of all, I will put a smile on my face before answering the phone. I once read that this simple action carries through in your voice, making it more welcoming. I will also try to remember if it is morning or afternoon, although I don’t seem to have much luck with that as frequent callers can attest. Yes, I’m the one who says Good…with a long pause…before the next words are out of my mouth.  Maybe, I should just say “Hello?”

All kidding aside, each one of us here understands that without the support and patronage of our bibliophile friends, Oak Knoll would be no more than a memory. We come to work every day enthused and convinced that we will either help one of you find that long desired treasure, get the newly required text book for your latest class, or finally see your name in print as the author of a scholarly text. So, bring on 2012! We welcome it and you with smiles on our faces.

The historic building of Oak Knoll

January 11, 2012 1 comment

The new title New Castle, Delaware: A Walk Through Time by Delaware authors Barbara E. Benson and Carol E. Hoffecker reveals the evolution of the town of New Castle from its seventeenth-century settlement to the leafy, beautiful city of today. There is one chapter that the staff here at Oak Knoll particularly likes, which is the chapter revealing the history of the historic Masonic Hall/Opera House—the building that is now the home of Oak Knoll Books and Press. At the opening of the Opera House, there were over 10,000 people gathered around the building in celebration, probably the biggest crowd it has ever seen! There is some great history packed into this chapter, so check out this excerpt that reveals the story behind Oak Knoll’s building.

The Masonic Hall/Opera House

If you walk up from the river along Delaware Street soaking in the colonial and Federal atmosphere around you, a large, proudly imposing structure that clearly comes from another time confronts you and demands a second look. Glancing upward you will see a plaque attached to the middle of the top floor that displays symbols of the Masonic Order and the Odd Fellows and proclaims that the building was “Erected in 1879.” This is the Masonic Hall and Opera House, and it represents New Castle’s best example of the Second Empire style.

The Opera House was constructed at a discouraging time in New Castle. The state legislature had just enacted a law to build a modern New Castle County Courthouse in Wilmington. For the first time in its history New Castle would no longer be a county seat. Many of the town’s leading men were lawyers. How many of them would remain in town? In the face of this potentially serious blow, it took courage and optimism for the Masons and Odd Fellows to agree to vacate their meeting space on the top floor of the Town Hall and to build an opera house with lodge meeting rooms. The lodges appointed a joint committee to undertake the work. The leader was William Herbert, one of New Castle’s most active citizens, a businessman and politician who served in many county and state offices, including county sheriff and state treasurer. William Herbert was a booster determined to restore New Castle’s damaged civic pride.

The man chosen to design the opera house was Theophilus P. Chandler Jr. (1845-1928). Chandler was one of Philadelphia’s most professionally accomplished architects. The founder of the Department of Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, he designed all manner of buildings including churches, commercial structures, and residences. He was the favorite architect of the du Pont family for whom he made a number of residential designs, including an addition to Winterthur.

During that year, Chandler worked on the New Castle Opera House he was simultaneously constructing the new courthouse in Wilmington, which was also in the style of the Second Empire. The courthouse in Wilmington lasted for only a generation and was razed at the end of World War I to make way for Rodney Square, but the New Castle Opera House still stands. Only an accomplished professional could have designed such a large structure, measures 50 feet by 100 feet at its base and standing three stories high. The tallest floor is the second, which housed a hall with a stage and seating capacity for 600 people. This grand room was capable of hosting meetings or traveling shows. The first floor contained retail shops, and the third floor provided meeting rooms for the Masons and the Odd Fellows.

The New Castle Opera House may not have rivaled the grandeur of the Paris Opera, but for a small American town it had lots of bells and whistles. It is built of brick decorated with rusticated flat stone pilasters and includes a projecting central pavilion, galvanized iron cornice, and quoined corners. There are sets of tall double-arched windows with semi-dressed stone block surrounds featuring keystone centers and caps at the bottoms. The roof edges are enhanced by fence-like balustrades. Four elaborate brick chimneys protrude from the hipped roof. Originally there was also a cupola on the center of the roof at the front of the building. It was removed as a safety hazard in 1950.

The building cost over $30,000, a large sum in 1880. When it proved too costly for the Masons and Odd Fellows to pay the mortgage, William Herbert assumed the debt personally. No wonder New Castle historian Alexander B. Cooper called him “the father of the building,” and went on to say that “it stands today largely as a monument to his memory.”

Ceremonies of Dedication
Immense Display—Good Music
September 13, 1880

“This is a big day for New Castle, and celebrates a plucky and hopeful step in the town’s new departure,” said a Wilmington newspaper. A crowd estimated at between 10,000 and 15,000 people, the largest gathering in New Castle’s history, assembled to witness the dedication of the splendid new Opera House. The three-story building will serve two principal fraternal organizations: the St. John’s Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons and the Washington Lodge of Odd Fellows. To celebrate this event large contingents of lodge members in full parade regalia came by steamboat and railway from Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Salem and Camden, New Jersey, and other towns in the region. As bands played and steamboat whistles blew, the lodge members marched up Delaware Street from the wharf to the “imposing and ornamental Hall.”

Long tables laid out with sandwiches, pies, cakes, and fruit greeted visitors at the dock, next to the Town Hall, and in the public square. Buildings along all the major streets were “profusely and gorgeously decorated with flags and flowers.” The Opera House itself was festooned with signal flags lent for the occasion by the revenue cutter USS Hamilton, which was in the harbor. The day climaxed with the Rev. J.H. Caldwell’s sermon describing Biblical analogies such as the dedication of Solomon’s Temple. In the evening there was a grand ball led by William Herbert, the man most responsible for seeing the project through. Dancing continued until dawn.

The Wilmington press noted the special significance of the new building as a forward step for a town that was losing the county seat. For too long, according to one newsman, New Castle residents had relied on giving entertainments in the courthouse. Another writer contrasted the crowds that gathered for the celebration with the “vulgar curiosity” of the somewhat smaller crowds that had long met in New Castle to witness hangings and whippings. “New Castle has reason to be proud of her hall and of the exercises of yesterday. The day will long be noted in her annals as among the greatest she has known.” The hall, he predicted, would stand as a symbol of New Castle’s growing “spirit of enterprise and energy.”

Click here for more information on New Castle, Delaware: A Walk Through Time.

Rob’s engaged!

January 10, 2012 5 comments

Not many personal stories make it to our blog very often, but I thought that I would fill people in on something that happened on New Year’s Eve. THIS GUY (uses two thumbs) got engaged to his girlfriend of almost six years, Lauren McNerney. We met in college back in 2005 when I was a junior and she was a sophomore, and we started dating shortly after that. We are currently looking for both a house and places to hold a wedding with a projected date in March/April of 2013. We have already lived with each other for a year and a half, so I think the initial stage of driving each other crazy is somewhat over! I’m definitely the lucky one.

-Rob Fleck