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A trip for 6,200 books, by Rob Fleck

October 16, 2012 1 comment

Phone rings

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.

Oh boy…

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.

-Rob

Ladies of Letterpress Conference

August 13, 2012 1 comment

Bailey and I had a great time representing Oak Knoll at the Ladies of Letterpress Conference last weekend. We learned a lot, admired beautiful examples of printing (and even bought a few!), met some nice people, and ate some great food. It was our first time in Asheville, and we loved the city. We will have to go back when we have more time!

Here are some of the pictures we took at the conference:

Some of the broadsides we liked

Letterpress ladies browsing at our booth

Abby Rorer of The Lone Oak Press demonstrating her engraving technique

A marbling demonstration

Bailey tries her hand at marbling

The drive home was beautiful

Thank you to the Ladies of Letterpress for putting on such a great event. We look forward to seeing you again in October for Oak Knoll Fest!

~ Laura Williams

A Bookseller’s Adventure in Europe: Part 2

June 22, 2012 1 comment

Click here to see part 1.

Day 8. Finally another real book day! I walked back to the Kok store and spent a part of the day going through all the books in the rare book room and then walked on to De Slegte, which is a chain of new bookstores in the Netherlands with a rare book department in their main Amsterdam store. I found books in their store and abused my friendship with Ton and Marga by taking the books back to their shop to ship for me. (I have found a great way to have books shipped back to the US from overseas purchases: I use a company called UOcean, which picks up the boxes from the bookstore and sends them back to New Castle cheaper and faster than the various country postal systems. In this case UOcean picked up all my purchases from Wykham, Cox, and Kok, consolidated the shipment, and delivered directly to New Castle. I’ve used them in Australia, Spain, Germany, France, and many other countries.) And of course my trip to the Netherlands had to end with a great meal in companionship with one of the great friends I have met while doing ILAB and ABAA work, Jelle Samshuijzen. He is Oak Knoll’s web master and developer of our in-house database. I worked with him while he was web master for the ABAA and ILAB and love sharing a martini with him, a tradition that dates back almost two decades. He had found a new restaurant in Amsterdam that mixed Asian and European food in a superb manner.

Day 9. Had to get to Budapest in time for a Committee cocktail hour and dinner with the Hungarians and found that plane travel from Amsterdam directly to Budapest one way cost over $900. I kept waiting for a cheap flight to open up but the cheap airline serving Budapest went bankrupt the week before I made reservations. I finally flew LOT airlines, which is the main Polish carrier. I was served up many a joke by my friends about my chances of arrival in Budapest but they were all totally wrong. The flight to Warsaw and then on to Budapest went without a hitch. We were warned to be very careful taking the taxi from the airport to the hotel and only sign up with legitimate taxis. (This reminded me of Prague.) I found the right one who charged me in the Hungarian currency of Forint (they are part of the Euro zone but have not adopted the Euro). We met that evening with the Hungarian booksellers’ association for a “let’s get acquainted” dinner and had a welcome speech from Adam Bosze, their President, in perfect English and a passionate speech by the dean of Hungarian booksellers, Lajos Borda, in Hungarian. It was a very pleasant beginning.

Day 10. This is the real work day. The Committee of ILAB started the meeting at 10 and it lasted all day. It would amaze the average bookseller in ILAB how much time and energy is spent by the volunteer booksellers who run the organization. The current Committee of eight comes from eight different countries (Netherlands, USA, Australia, Denmark, Austria, France, Germany, Switzerland) with an executive secretary from France and a web editor from Germany. Email makes it possible for them to “talk” every day, and they do. The actual “Members” of the League are the countries but they only get together once a year in the fall so it is up to the Committee to steer the ILAB ship on the right course on a day-to-day basis. Issues such as export/import, stolen books, ethics, and promotion of the book and manuscript world in this digital age concern them every day. We ended the day with another fabulous dinner with our Hungarian bookseller friends.

Day 11. We now have a chance to see some of the sites of Budapest. Adam Bosze takes us to the castle overlooking the river followed by an outdoor lunch in a restaurant. We then go back to see booksellers along “booksellers’ row” near our hotel. I manage to buy a few books while trying not to get confused by the conversion of Forints to Euros to Dollars. Adam’s main job is as an interviewer for the equivalent of a PBS Hungarian TV station where he covers the arts. He scheduled five of us for TV interviews, which were filmed in one of the bookstores. I’m not sure how many of the Hungarians will understand our English, but Adam says he will take all of our comments and edit them down to about a six-minute segment. And, of course, we all have another great dinner.

Day 12. Adam has a surprise for many of us. He wants us to join him on the subway to go to a secret place for a late breakfast/coffee. Off we go to one of the last standing leftover cafés from the communist days (1989 was the end of communism in Hungary). He especially notes how we will probably be mistreated, abused and ignored for service just like in the old days of communism. One of the Hungarian booksellers explains to all of us what life was like under communism – how did it effect getting a home, finding a car, dealing with the government. And to think that was just 23 years ago. Tom Congalton (current ILAB Vice President, owner of Between the Covers here in America) and I go to visit one of the younger Hungarian booksellers and I buy interesting examples of 20th century printing from him. Adam then takes me (and the Poulsens from Denmark) to visit Lajos Borda who I mentioned was the dean of Hungarian booksellers. He speaks Hungarian and German so Adam is our most effective translator. It turns out that Borda has a publishing program which also includes some beautifully printed and bound limited editions. I am so impressed with his work that I ask him if I can try to sell a set of his works to an American library. I get a great smile and a handshake after Adam finishes his translation. I hope I have found a new friend through the book world. Some of the committee had to fly home this day so we gradually lose friends throughout the day, but, of course, there are still enough of us left to enjoy a fine dinner and a glass of wine or two that evening.

Day 13. This is a Sunday, and I’m now by myself as the last of the committee flies home one by one during the morning. Tom and Heidi Congalton are off to do the London Book Fair. I decide to use the sunshine filled day to go back to the Danube and take one of the 1 hour boat cruises up and down the river to see the sites. I see all the long river cruise ships tied up at the various docks after letting off their passengers to view the city. I walk all over the city enjoying the buildings and watching the people. My last dinner is spent by myself, which is something I really enjoy doing on occasion. I have a very leisurely meal in one of the streets that caters to outdoor eating with a bottle of wine and ponder upon the good life of an antiquarian bookseller.

Day 14. Home I go. Budapest to Heathrow using British Air and then on to Philadelphia with all flights on time. After 14 hours of traveling I quickly get through customs, find my bag and walk through the gate where they collect the customs forms. I am ready to see my wife Millie as I am beat. But wait – one more adventure. For the first time in seven years (according to the TSA personnel), I set off the radiation counter strapped to the belt of the young lady collecting my customs form. I had recently gone through successful seed implants for prostate cancer and had been warned that there was a faint chance I could trigger such a machine. The doctor had provided me with a card which described the procedure I had just completed and gave the date which was supposed to be my “get out of jail free” card. Unfortunately the TSA hadn’t had such a case for such a long time they had trouble getting the special Geiger counter to work correctly. After a hour of waiting while calls to headquarters took place, I was allowed to leave with apologizes all around. At least I know that the security at airports works!

And now I’m anxiously awaiting all the books to come in. I hear they have been mailed and I’m really excited to work on them and maybe even offer them to one of you reading this blog.

A Bookseller’s Adventure in Europe: Part 1

June 13, 2012 1 comment

One of the joys of being a bookseller is the chance to take occasional trips overseas as part of my business. My latest adventure was a two week, three country trip by plane, train, car, and boat to England, the Netherlands, and Hungary (with an airport layover in Poland). I saw lots of old friends and made some new ones, bought books, finalized a publishing deal, and ate many great meals.

The main purpose of the trip was to participate in the International League of Antiquarian Bookseller’s (ILAB) Committee meeting in Budapest. The Committee that runs the day-to-day affairs of the League (8 booksellers, an Executive Secretary and the Web Editor) meet in the Spring of each year. This year they chose Budapest as Hungary is the newest country in ILAB and the Committee wanted to show support for the Hungarian organization and get to know the booksellers better. I’m not an officer any longer (President from 2002-2006) but was elected a President of Honour in 2008, which means that I get to go to the meetings and offer a bit of advice on occasion.

Day 1 and 2. One lovely part about New Castle, Delaware, home of Oak Knoll Books, is how close it is to the Philadelphia International Airport, which operates as a hub for US Air and British Air. I took the late direct flight to London’s Heathrow Airport on British Air and got in at 10 in the morning. I have been staying in a small boutique hotel in South Kensington simply called Number 16 for many years as I can just hop on the tube (Piccadilly Line) and be at the South Kensington station about 40 minutes later. The hotel is very small but in a great location and has great ambiance. I spent the rest of the day checking out the neighborhood and making sure I had lined up a restaurant for the evening.

Day 3. I have bought many books from Howard Mather at Wykham Books over the years but had never sat down with him for a meal to get to know him better. He specializes in my kind of books (books about books), so I had emailed him a number of weeks before leaving and asked if we could have lunch together. He gave me directions to his warehouse location in Wimbledon Park so I took the tube from South Kensington and arranged to meet him at 10:30. So how the heck was I to know that Wimbledon and Wimbledon Park are two separate tube stops! After a half an hour of scouring the neighborhood I finally asked a street cleaner how I could have missed the location. He looked at my directions and quickly spotted the word “Park” after Wimbledon and said I had gone one tube stop too many. A cell phone call got me back in Howard’s good graces, and I eventually found him. Off to lunch we go, in an ancient long hooded English convertible that my “full figure” barely squeezed into. We then had a pleasant two-hour lunch getting caught up on mutual friends and past experiences. There is nothing like a bottle of wine to help one figure out the future of the book business.

Days 4 and 5. One of my buddies in the book business is Tony Cox, who operates Claude Cox Books in Ipswich. When Oak Knoll bought the Randeria collection in England a number of years ago, Tony was a great help and bought the less expensive store stock as part of the deal. He has stayed with Millie and me in New Castle and extended an invitation for me to stay with him for two nights while I was in England.  He has a great store in an ancient building with lots of books about books and is always worth a visit while I’m in England.  I took a taxi to the Liverpool train station and caught a train for Ipswich. Tony picked me up at the station and took me to the shop for a quick book fix. We then headed off to his home, which is a 17th century house with rentable holiday space. And – lucky for me – he had gotten in some books about books collections that had not yet made it to the shop but were available for browsing and instant pricing. He is my kind of man.

Day 6. When I was planning my trip, I was considering various options for getting to Amsterdam from England. I noticed that there was ferry service twice a day from Harwich, England, to Hoek (Netherlands), and asked Tony what he knew about it. Harwich was an easy drive from Ipswich, and Tony offered to drive me to the ferry port on Sunday morning. The ferry trip was long (7 hours), but when you consider all the problems in flying and the fact that my travel day was a Sunday without much else to do, I thought it worth a try. When we arrived at the port, I was amazed at the size of the ferry as it looked more like a cruise ship! I hadn’t been on a ferry like that since cruising around the Baltic Sea during ILAB’s Scandinavian Congress. This car-ferry line operates once in the morning and once in the evening. They have staterooms, casinos, restaurants, entertainment, and great views if the sea is calm. For less than $200 for the entire trip, I decided to take the optional stateroom upgrade (necessary if you take the evening trip). I scouted out the ship and quickly spotted the best restaurant on board, where I reserved a table right on the water. The seven hours flew by in one of the most pleasant trips that I had taken for quite a while. When I arrived in the Netherlands, I walked to the close-by train station and got on the train to Rotterdam and then transferred to the train for Amsterdam. I had some help with directions during that part of the trip as I bumped into a Los Angeles restaurant owner making his first trip to the Netherlands who had, in turn, made friends with a young Dutchman on his way home to Amsterdam. We travelled as a threesome to the central station in Amsterdam, which was an easy walk from the hotel I had chosen with help from Ton Kok, a Dutch bookseller friend of mine. It was right on the edge of Amsterdam’s famous red light district so walking around the neighborhood proved to be quite a sight seeing adventure!

Day 7. I had various business propositions to talk over with people at the University of Amsterdam and started the day with a leisurely walk around the city followed by lunch with Cees de Jong, who is a book packager and designer. He has recently put together a book on the Jan Tholenaar Collection of type specimens published by Taschen. We walked to the University, and I met the people working on an upcoming Oak Knoll Press distribution title (John Lane, Diaspora of Armenian Printing). I also talked over some business with the rare book librarian. I then had time to walk to Ton and Marga Kok’s bookshop in Amsterdam, which is a huge establishment full of interesting books. When the shop closed, Marga and Ton and I walked to a famous Amsterdam restaurant (Haesje Claes) and met Irene and Arnoud Gerits (current President of ILAB) for dinner.

Click here for part 2.

Pictures from Overseas

May 17, 2012 Leave a comment

As promised, Bob has been taking pictures of his trip as he can. And here they are!

At Claude Cox Books…

…with Tony Cox

On board the ferry to Amsterdam

The cabin

A nice view…

…and a nicer view!

In Amsterdam

At Ton Kok’s shop

New Books from New England

May 10, 2012 Leave a comment

Bob shopping around a store.

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.

-Rob

An Overseas Adventure

May 9, 2012 Leave a comment

One of the joys of being an antiquarian bookseller is the experience of traveling overseas for business. I left last night for what I estimate is my 75th trip overseas. This trip will include time in England, the Netherlands, and Hungary. Hungary is the newest country to become a member of the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers, and they have invited the Committee that manages the business of the League to have their Spring meeting in Budapest. Even though I’m long retired from being President of the League, Presidents of Honour are still invited to the meetings for their feedback, so off I go.

I’ll keep you posted about England and the Netherlands as well, as I’m visiting lots of interesting bookshops while there and will experience the England-to-Netherlands ferry for the first time.

-Bob