My first look at the famed Kelmscott/Goudy press owned by J. Ben Lieberman was in March of 1997 when I was invited by his son, Jethro, to buy many of the books in Ben’s library. There it was, standing in all his historic beauty, in a separate room. I knew all about this legendary press from Neil Shaver (Yellow Barn Press)’s The Liberty Bell on the Kelmscott Goudy Press, authored by Ben in 1996. I bought all the books along with the 20-some four drawer file cabinets that contained his detailed correspondence with fellow printers and his extensive files on all aspects of printing history and modern technology. The file cabinets went en masse to the University of Delaware who have organized them for interested scholars. The press was not for sale.
Now fast forward to March 2013 when I got an email from Jethro asking me if I would be interested in purchasing the remaining books that they had kept out from the 1997 sale. Rob and I went to New York and went through the books in detail and bought them (see the collection on our website). These were the books that had been kept out of the first group as they had more sentimental value to the family. And there standing beside the bookcases during our entire visit was the famous Kelmscott/Goudy press that I had seen 16 years earlier. When Jethro told me that he was retiring and wanted to move, I asked him what was going to happen to the press. It was to be sold! I lusted for the opportunity to be part of the sale of that press and told him that I thought it would bring a hefty price because of all the sentimental value attached to it. It was not to be. Jethro decided to let Christie’s handle the sale and they did a great PR job.
Standing this week in the atrium of Christie’s Rockefeller Center gallery, the press — a thing of dark, Dickensian iron musculature — looked like a rough guest who had shown up for tea. The great platen, with its clawlike flanges, was suspended at rest. But a glance at the pistons above made clear how much force that platen could exert on the paper and printing plate below.
-from the New York Times article that ran the day before auction
The press has just sold for $233,000, a spectacular amount, but then how can you determine a value for such an emotionally stimulating piece of antiquity? And I got to touch it!
Here’s the listing on the Christie’s website. The press’s new home will be at the Cary Graphic Arts Collection at RIT, where curator Steven Galbraith promises it “will have an active life… not simply as a museum artifact, but as a working press accessible to students, scholars and printers.” Read RIT’s press release about the acquisition.
Ahh, the University of Delaware, my ol’ alma mater. Though I’ve maintained a relationship with UD through Oak Knoll’s connection to the Morris Library, I never thought that I would be back there, standing up in front of a class to give a speech.
Stella Sudekum, a business student, had asked my father if he would be interested in speaking to her Entrepreneurial class about starting and running his own business. He had a schedule conflict and asked if I wanted to give the talk instead. Since elementary school, I have always had a fear of public speaking. It wasn’t a ‘if I get up in front of a class I’ll hyperventilate’ feeling, but a fear nonetheless. That is why it was surprising when I said yes. Was it my subconscious wanting to overcome the fear of public speaking? Even after the talk, I still don’t know, however I’m still glad that I did it.
Now that I was excited to do it, it came time to prepare for zero hour. Practicing in front of a mirror is the traditional method of preparing for a speech, however I felt walking up and down the hallway was much more helpful. I only had a couple of weeks and I wanted to make sure I didn’t cut any corners in getting myself ready. It was through practice that I became comfortable with what I was going to be talking about.
When the day finally came, I parked my car and headed over to Gore Hall (where I had many classes myself). The class had two speakers that day, and luckily (or unluckily for my nerves) I was the second to go. What I thought that was going to be Rob Fleck fumbling over his words actually turned into a very detailed, organized, and energetic presentation about the history of Oak Knoll and where I was going to take it in the future. The presentation started off with my father’s education and the start of Oak Knoll Books & Press. The second half of the presentation focused on the exciting part: where I wanted to take the business in the future. Obviously we are in a digital age, and to focus on how to sell physical books (not ebooks, yet!) is a challenge in today’s world. However, I feel that there will always be a need for a physical book. To my surprise, I received many insightful questions regarding bookselling, publishing, Oak Knoll Fest and how to print books by hand.
Overall, it was an extremely gratifying experience and it seemed to spark an interest in bookselling among the students in the class. Perhaps some of them in the audience will join the ABAA someday!
Here’s a video of the presentation. (Apologies in advance for the sound quality, especially at the very beginning. It gets better!)