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Miniature Book Society Conclave in Boston, 2014

September 10, 2014 Leave a comment

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!).

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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!

Now I know why they call it the Windy City: a visit to Chicago

May 20, 2014 4 comments

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Trip to Ohio

March 20, 2014 1 comment
aldus-society-speech-MarciaPreston

Marcia Preston introduces Bob at the Aldus Society

One of our nicest customers, Marcia Preston, called me in the spring of last year and invited me to give the 2014 Ron Ravneberg Lecture to the Aldus Society of Columbus, Ohio. This very active group of book lovers founded their Society in 2000 and it has grown to a very significant size. As with any trip, I planned several stops along the way. My wife, Millie, and I left on a Wednesday morning and kept to my strict personal guideline of never driving more than five hours in a day. That placed us in Washington, Pennsylvania early Wednesday afternoon and gave us time to tour the LeMoyne House and learn about its history and role in the Underground Railroad.

The next morning, under threat of snow, we were off to Columbus to meet Ed Hoffman, an ABAA dealer in Columbus and President of the Aldus Society.  Ed took us to lunch in the historic district of Columbus, gave us a tour of the town, bought us ice cream at Jeni’s Ice Cream (which was unknown to us Easterners), and then took us to the home of the collector who had asked me to speak. We spent a delightful few hours looking at books and then returned to the hotel to rest up for the night’s speech. Here I am waxing lyrically about Oak Knoll.

38 Years and Counting: A Life of Bookselling, Publishing and Bibliomania

Bob and Janet Ravneberg

Bob with Janet Ravneberg

The crowd of 60 folks seemed to find it all entertaining, but maybe that had something to do with the many wine bottles available for one and all before the speech began!

The first stop on our way back was Erie, Pennsylvania (remember my five hour rule!) on the way to Buffalo, New York to see a collection of books. The snow storm on Thursday night did not stand in our way as these northern folks know how to clean up quickly. We saw the collection at Ron Cozzi’s Old Editions Bookshop & Gallery, a bookstore with lots of books to view and well worth a trip to visit.

While in Buffalo, I also got to visit my high school for the first time in almost 50 years. Good old Amherst High stands solid as a rock.

Amherst High in Buffalo, NY, with a most distinguished alumnus

Next stop: Ithaca, New York, where yes, it snowed again, but not enough to keep us from finding the delightful hotel La Tourelle where we sampled Finger Lake wines with the owner and author Wally Wiggins and his son. Wally even gave Millie one of the books he had authored and added an inscription, which made her blush.

The last stop was the result of a spur-of-the-moment thought that it would be really nice to see Henry and Pearl Morris (Bird & Bull Press). We called them up and arranged for a lunch in Newton, Pennsylvania the next day. Henry recently sold us his collection of books as they had moved into a retirement community. Two months of retirement living was enough to convince them to move back into their old home on Jericho Mountain. This was unexpected news to us, but pretty logical if you know Henry and Pearl. We reminisced about old times and I told him that he appeared four times in my presentation to the Aldus Society! Here is one picture showing us together during the APHA award ceremony in 2008 where Henry and I each got an award.

Henry Morris and Bob Fleck: award-winning bookmen

Finally we returned to Delaware where we discovered the most snow on the ground of any of the places we had visited.

Adventures in Kentucky

September 17, 2013 Leave a comment

It all started because my wife Millie wanted to visit her old homestead in Flat Lick, Kentucky, a tiny community founded before 1784 in the southeastern part of the state. She hadn’t been back for many years, so how could I refuse the request? However, being a true bookman, I immediately started thinking about how I could combine book adventures with family visiting.

I really can’t stand driving for long periods of time so each part of our trip had to be restricted to about 5-hour driving sessions. A really bright book spot in Kentucky is the University of Kentucky’s Special Collections and its curator extraordinaire, Jim Birchfield. That had to be our first stop. But Lexington was 11 hours away from New Castle, Delaware which meant I had to find a place halfway between to spend a night.  MapQuest told me that Morgantown, West Virginia, was my halfway mark. I searched for a downtown hotel near the waterfront and found the Hotel Morgan.

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The hotel was right next to the Morgantown History Museum so we visited that and were pleasantly greeted by a full printing shop set up, along with other interesting historical displays. I had forgotten most of my knowledge of West Virginia history (if I ever had it) so the history of this state was really interesting. After the museum, we discovered that one of the best restaurants in the city was on the top floor/roof of our hotel. The night was perfect, weather-wise, so we scheduled ourselves for dinner on the outdoor patio overlooking the town and Monongahela River.

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The next day we left for Lexington to visit Jim Birchfield. At his recommendation we stayed at the Gratz Park Inn, a boutique hotel in the center of Lexington filled with horse racing memorabilia.

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Jim picked us up the next morning and gave us a tour of UK’s Special Collections. We started in the very large, multi-roomed basement with the King Library Press, the famous printing office established by Victor and Carolyn Hammer in 1956. Dr. Paul Holbrook, who has been associated with the Press for many years, was there and gave us a personal tour and history.

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Jim took us to lunch in the facility dining room and we swapped book stories as always happens when bibliophiles get together. It is so nice to talk with librarians who are just as involved with the love of books.

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As we were leaving the dining room, Jim called us back and said he had the perfect photo opportunity for us. He brought us over to the wall outside the dining room and told Millie and I to stand there while he took a picture.

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There we were standing in front of the portrait of Dave Roselle, former President of the University of Kentucky, but more importantly, former President of the University of Delaware. We had gotten to know Dave and Louise Roselle over Dave’s many years at Delaware. He was responsible for helping convince Frank Tober to donate his magnificent collection of literary forgery to the University. Dave is now Director of Winterthur after being coaxed out of retirement. I emailed him this picture and told him how many Kentuckians remembered him with great fondness. Kentucky named one of their buildings after him in 2011. Dave emailed back recalling his days in Kentucky.

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The afternoon was spent visiting a few sights and a bookstore. We visited Mike Courtney at Black Swan Books where, of course, I bought a book! I wished that I had time to visit Glover’s Bookery but time ran out.

The next day saw us travel to Louisville which is only about an hour away from Lexington. I had done a great deal of business with a very pleasant bookseller in Louisville by the name of Charles Bartman. We had never met in person and all our business had been done via phone and email. While planning our trip and I asked him if it would be possible to visit him. He said that his books were in a garage attached to his home but that I was welcome to visit.

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We were a bit anxious that Millie would be bored as I looked at books. Boy, were we wrong! Charlie and Bonnie met us at door and the conversation didn’t stop for a minute. They love to travel and so do we, so we had lots of foreign places to talk about. As lunch time approached, they said that they had prepared lunch for us rather than have us all go out and asked “Do you drink Cava?” These are my kind of people! I bought lots of books (nothing to do with the Cava I’m sure) and we just had a great time. This is what bookselling is all about – making new friends.

We were then off on our 3 hour trip to Flat Lick, taking back roads through scenic hills.  Millie got to see her aunt, brother, and various cousins, and catch up with the local gossip. She was especially nostalgic about her old school building which now stands abandoned and for sale. I wanted to show a picture of her standing in front of it with the caption “Millie considering a major renovation project” and see if we could get her relatives interested but then had second thoughts.

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Finally it was time to say goodbye to all the relatives and head back to Delaware. We decided to travel the Virginia route on the way home so out came MapQuest again and there was Lexington, Virginia at the halfway mark. We drove through the Cumberland Gap following the reverse course of Daniel Boone, through Tennessee and up to Lexington, Virginia. We had time to tour Washington and Lee University and its museum devoted to Robert E. Lee (and George Washington). The bookstore there had a rare book section of books for sale concerning Lee and Washington. I think this is the first time I have ever seen a selection of rare books for sale in a museum bookstore.

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We had drinks at the restaurant next to the hotel and Millie quickly struck up a conversation with two locals. They told us about a restaurant in the historic part of Lexington. We got to the restaurant, got the last table on the outdoor porch overlooking the main street, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The cadets from Virginia Military Institute were all dressed in their uniforms and enjoying the beginning of their new school year –  some cadets enjoying it more than others by the sounds of it.

The next day took us up Virginia to Washington and Baltimore. We had lunch in the historic town of Havre de Grace sitting on the patio while watching the Susquehanna flow by. It was a perfect ending to a perfect trip.

-Bob

Rob’s Visit to Rutgers

September 16, 2013 Leave a comment

rutgersI 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!

-Rob

A Day at the Auction

August 15, 2013 Leave a comment
Some of the LECs Bob brought home

Some of the LECs Bob brought home

So when was the last time you were in Ithaca, NY? I decided on the spur of the moment to go to the National Book Auction’s August sale last weekend, as there was an interesting mix of older books, private press, and books from the Limited Editions Club. I had never met David Hall, the owner, but gave him a call and he steered me to a nice place to stay (La Tourelle). The books were available for viewing on Saturday, so I made the 5 hour drive through heavy rain in the Poconos to get there in time for a long look. I found out that the older books had come from my old friend Norman Kane who had passed away in March.

The sale started at 12 on Sunday and lasted about three and a half hours. The auction house is at the forefront of technology with real time online bidding through Artfact, which added to the excitement of the normal audience, phone, and mail bidding.  I managed to get 64 of the lots including Norman’s bookpress, which I shall keep for myself as a reminder of him. I had a three hour dinner with David that night where we solved every bookselling problem in the world plus some. Then it was back to Delaware on Monday morning after lots of packing and a brief visit to John Spencer at Riverow Bookshop who is always worth seeing. Now stay tuned for many new additions to our stock!

Norman Kane's bookpress

Norman Kane’s bookpress

Categories: Oak Knoll Books Tags: , ,

Rob’s trip to Washington D.C.

December 13, 2012 Leave a comment

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.

-Rob