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“The Joy of Catalogs”

Today we welcome guest blogger Oliver B. Pollak.

The Joy of Catalogs

Around 1999 I discovered Oak Knoll Books and my interest in books on books. About the same time Neil Shaver of Yellow Barn Press in Council Bluffs, Iowa, introduced me to the black arts.

I acquired 206 Oak Knoll catalogs in May 1999, subsequently received printed editions by mail to number 292, and more recently online versions. During the summer of 1999 I went through the catalogs containing about 150,000 titles and with pencil and post it and prepared my bucket list. The exercise reminded me of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory which I endured in 1963. The catalogs refined my bookish interests. I started an essay, “A Year of Reading Oak Knoll Catalogs,” (not Provence, Tuscany or Proust), which reached 3,000 words. The essay languished. Four computers later, a transition from WordStar to Word, and an overburdened, imperfectly organized, 120 linear feet filing system, the essay is lost.

My interest in catalogs starts with my uncle in London who sold books out of his London flat from the early 1950s to 1970. Supplementing the copies he gave me with those held by the British Library, I wrote “Eric M. Bonner, Africana Bookseller,” African Research & Documentation (1999). I studied rising prices as the same book appeared again, and the purchase and dispersal of collections.

A July 2, 2012 email from Oak Knoll, “Bookselling is 20% off!,” reminded me of Out of Print & Into Profit: A History of the Rare and Secondhand Book Trade in Britain in the Twentieth Century edited by Giles Mandelbrote (The British Library and Oak Knoll Press, 2006). I retired from teaching this year and have more time to read. I requested it on interlibrary loan from Truman State University Pickler Library in Missouri. I also requested Ernest Fischer, Verleger Buchhândler & Antiquare aus Deutschland under Ősterreich in der Emigration nach 1933 (2011) from the University of California at Santa Cruz on account of my interest in Hans Roger Madol, a peripatetic rare book and manuscript dealer who left Berlin in 1933 and published several books on European royalty, which led to my “The Biography of a Biographer: Hans Roger Madol (1903-1956),” The Germanic Review (2003).

Several essays in Mandelbrote intrigued me. Chris Kohler helped sell my uncle Eric’s British Empire collection in the early 1970s contributed “Making Collections.” Michael Harris, “The London Street Trade” reminded me of the 1885 map of Burma I purchased on Farringdon Road that is currently in a library exhibit, “The Politics of Cookbooks in Burma and Myanmar, 1903-2009,” and more recently my visit to the Camden Market. Finally, and most pertinent here, H.R. Woudhuysen’s essay, “Catalogues.”

A June 2012 Oak Knoll flyer led me to order With Food in Mind by Nicole J. Caruth, a book I thought my spouse and I would enjoy. We were delighted to see A Practical Guide to Light Refreshment (1996) by John DePol and Barbara Henry featured. Neil Shaver and John DePol collaborated on several books.

The Oak Knoll website contains 21 categories in alphabetical order. Bibliography, Book collecting, Book selling, Libraries, Printing History, and Publishing rang my bell. I am intrigued by fore-edge painting, incunabula, signs of ownership (association copies and book plates), use and readership (marginalia), and the organization of knowledge (catalogs), which can be found searching those terms.

Catalogs provide pathways to the structure of knowledge and the keys and ladder to open and ascend it.

-Oliver B. Pollak

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