Who ever thought that books that can’t exceed 3 inches in any direction could become such a huge success! What was to be a three day visit to Boston to learn about miniature books turned into an adventure that provided me with an excellent opportunity to meet avid collectors, printers, and booksellers that revolves around the saying “yes, a book can be too big!”
The Miniature Book Society was founded in 1983 and has had a conclave every year to help bring face to face interaction between its members. Obviously some conclaves are harder to get to than others (for example last year’s conclave in Vancouver was attended by 40 members) while others, like this year’s conclave in Boston, MA was one of the most attended in recent history (over 80 members). I take great pride in being one of those 80 attendees that was able to make it.
The first day was a meet and greet over a lovely dinner where we took over half of 75 Chestnut, a restaurant whose owner owns Cheers of TV fame.
The next day was registration and a nice reception hosted by Ann and David Bromer at Bromer Booksellers (you too Phil and Shannon!).
After the registration was a silent auction, which I won a lovely miniature book which was printed accordion style, and an exquisite buffet dinner. After the dinner, I won the award for being the most recent newlywed in attendance and won Miriam Mouse’s Marriage Contract, which is a lovely miniature book by Miriam Irwin. She even signed it for me!
Saturday was a day filled with meetings, talks, presentations, dinner with booksellers and collectors, and tours, all while ending with a live auction.
The tour of the Boston Athenaeum was particularly interesting because we got a top-to-bottom walkthrough of the Athenaeum (which houses 1/3 of George Washington’s original library).
The last day of the fair was more work than play (but isn’t playing all we do in bookselling?!?) because it was the bookfair.
Let me tell you, doing a bookfair for miniature books is a dream come true for booksellers because it means you only need to bring a carryon and all of your books with you on a plane.
Can’t wait for the conclave next year in Amsterdam!
A travel report from Rob:
My first visit to the Windy City couldn’t have been more enjoyable, although it only lasted a couple days. My first library visit was with Paul Gehl at the Newberry Library. They had a lovely exhibition (titled Plainly Spoken) organized by the Midwest Guild of Bookworkers, which showed 17 different bindings of sections of Julia Miller’s incredibly detailed bookbinding handbook Books Will Speak Plain. You can check out the online description here.
While visiting with Paul, I brought our copy of the 1824 edition of Peter Cottom’s Whole Art of Book-Binding. By total coincidence, a previous owner wrote on the front pastedown, in pencil, “Newberry Lib has 1811 English first”. This prompted us to do some searching and eventually we got to look at the first known manual of bookbinding in person. Needless to say, I was pretty excited.
The second stop was in Chicago’s South Side where I would meet with Alice Schreyer and Daniel Meyer of the University of Chicago. What followed was one of the most detailed library tours I have ever taken. The U of C library does not use off-site storage, quite the challenge for a collection of over 10 million volumes. So the library constructed an underground storage area in the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library, which houses a very advanced automated retrieval system complete with robotic cranes. This monster project took three years from 2008 – 2011, with the final volume being added in 2013.
The trip wouldn’t be complete without food! I went to the James Beard award-winning restaurant Blackbird (twice!), Buddy Guy’s Legends, and sampled a good ol’ fashioned Chicago deep dish pizza.
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!)
I met my wife at the University of Delaware during the fall semester of 2005. She was an out-of-state student from Staten Island, NY and during our time off from school we would travel up and down the New Jersey Turnpike to visit each other. In my case, anytime I approached exit 9, I knew that I was almost there (I took exit 10 for Staten Island). I had never stopped there other than to get an emergency fill-up of my car’s gas tank.
Fast forward eight years later and I finally get to stop in New Brunswick to see the campus of Rutgers University.
As I say goodbye to the employees of Oak Knoll , I get a familiar tune stuck in my head as I make my way down the elevator.
“On the road again,
Just can’t wait to get on the road again”
Upon my arrival, I met Ronald Becker, Head of Special Collections, and Timothy Corlis, Head of Preservation, for a lovely lunch at the faculty cafeteria.
Afterwards we headed back to the Archibald S. Alexander Library where I received a tour of Special Collections as well as the preservation room. Rutgers has an outstanding collection of New Jerseyana and an impressive collection on the history of the railroad.
In the preservation room I was introduced to their newest toy: a high resolution, floor-to-ceiling mounted preservation camera. I was also shown how boxes are custom made for a variety of materials, including Rutgers’ lovely collection of woodblocks as well as a Civil War-era officer’s hat.
After my tour I showed some New Jersey-related material that I brought with me and Ron picked out some items to add to the library’s collection. I took a few exhibition catalogues and made my way back to the shop.
My next adventure will be in mid-October. I’ll be visiting Temple University (and perhaps another institution which I will reveal then as well), so keep an eye out for another travelogue!
Late last month, I conducted the first of several trips to various libraries and institutions planned for our fiscal year 2012–2013.
Destination: Washington D.C.
Starting off early in the morning, I began my drive down to the Hotel Harrington. Driving on the nightmare known as the Washington Beltway was surprisingly pleasant and I made great time. With some time to spare, I freshened up and started my walk, past the White House, towards George Washington University’s campus where I met with Brad Sabin Hill, curator of the I. Edward Kiev Judaica Collection at the Gelman Library. After showing me around the beautiful top floor of the library, we discussed future exhibitions that will be occurring at the library. Afterwards, we took a break for a late lunch at a lovely French bistro (my favorite cuisine) and parted ways shortly thereafter.
It was then time for some fun and, since I’m a huge basketball fan, I decided to take the plunge and attend a Washington Wizards game. Luckily enough for me, I got to see the Wizards win their first game of the 2012-2013 season (they should pay me to attend the games now). Afterwards, I had a late dinner at Graffiato, which is the restaurant owned by Top Chef Winner Mike Isabella. I was really interested in going to this restaurant, not for Isabella or Top Chef, but because Isabella’s cookbook Crazy Good Italian was co-written by my favorite food blogger Carol Blymire. If you like food, you would love her current blog Alinea at Home, as well as her past blog (and 2007 winner for best food blog), French Laundry at Home.
The next morning I met with curator of the Rosenwald collection at the Library of Congress, Dan De Simone. I had never been to the Library of Congress before, so I was pretty excited. He gave me a VERY detailed tour of the Rare Books Collection, as well as the numerous exhibitions that they had displayed. If you haven’t been to the LoC, I highly recommend going, as it is certainly a beautiful building, inside and out. After our relaxing lunch, he gave me a copy of his Seven Perspectives of the Woodcut and personally inscribed it as a memento of my first visit to “the big house (LoC).” After saying our final goodbyes, we parted ways and thus ended my adventure in Washington D.C.
Me: “Good morning, Oak Knoll, how may I help you?”
Caller: “Hello, yes, I’m wondering if you buy books.”
This is the typical start of a conversation with someone interested in selling parts of their collections to us, and my reply is always the same:
Me: “We wouldn’t be in business if we didn’t buy books! What kind of books are we talking about here?”
Working at Oak Knoll, the frequency of people looking to sell part, if not all, of their collection to us has increased recently. Usually the amount of books in question don’t exceed a few boxes worth, but every now and then we come across a unique scenario that really blows us out of the water.
One such collection was from a fellow ABAA dealer from Chevy Chase, MD called Nina Matheson Books. Nina Matheson had been in bookselling for years, running her bookstore out of a two bedroom apartment at 4701 Willard Avenue, and had just recently come into contact with another large collection of books she needed to clear some room for. Fortunately for us, she was going to part with her collection of books about books, as well as her interesting group of poetry books. After hearing this (and seeing the collection for ourselves), we decided to purchase it, and went down to Chevy Chase to visit her. On the way, we picked up a monstrous 26’ U-Haul truck. Some of you are probably thinking ‘overkill’, but I was thinking ‘precaution’.
We ended up parking it in a spot on the street that was available parking until 4pm, thinking we would be out of Maryland by then (I won 2nd place in estimation at a science fair when I attended New Castle Middle School, and unfortunately my skills in that area had faded away as we ended up leaving much later than that).
When we finally did arrive at her shop, we started packing up the books into boxes and labeling them either books about books or poetry. Slowly but surely we got the first room packed up completely, then the second. Upon starting the third and final room, it was getting close to 4 o’clock, so I wanted to make sure that I could park the truck in the loading dock for easy loading of the books. However, I didn’t take into account the other truck that was scheduled to be there until 8p.
The spot that I was in was ‘no parking between 4 to 6’, and all the other spots on the street were ‘no parking’, period. This wasn’t looking good. After asking around for other places to park (to no avail) I decided to take a chance and park near the loading dock where we could start loading as quickly as possible. Bailey, James, and I became close acquaintances with the maintenance elevator as we had to load all 6,200 packed-up books into the truck.
Luckily it went by quickly and we were on our way back to Delaware, but not before stopping at a local Mexican restaurant for some quesadillas and margaritas!
The next day, the whole Oak Knoll staff (including the boss, and my father, Bob) had to unload the boxes into the shop. Half of the boxes went on the second floor to be priced immediately and half went into the basement. Unfortunately the only way to get the massive amount of boxes that we had on the truck into the basement was through a trap door in the alley beside the building. We had our Publishing Director, Laura Williams, stand on an unsteady piece of wood, which was a lawsuit waiting to happen, to guide the boxes down. Luckily no one died and we had it all unloaded in just over an hour.
Book hunting. It’s what we have to do from time to time to keep in stock hard-to-find items for catalogues. I don’t know if our dedicated followers (YOU!) have been paying much attention to our recently acquired stock lately, but we have been on a type specimen and illuminated facsimiles binge. My father and I recently got back from a trip to New England, making rounds at some local bookstores and picking up a couple collections on the way. It has become quite fun adding new titles to the lists for our upcoming Special Catalogue #19 and Catalogue #300. Even after 36 years in business, we do run into books that, believe it or not, we have never had before. One book that we came back with was, while not incredibly expensive, incredibly interesting. It’s a type specimen foldout by the French type foundry Deberny & Peignot titled Les Cochins from 1914. We were so surprised to find that this one hasn’t ever been in our system, as we have had other Deberny & Peignot titles before, but it certainly is nice to add one more. It’s so new it is sitting on a cart waiting for an image as we speak. You can view the book online here.