Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2012 Issue

Oak Knoll at 300

Oak knoll-r

The only way to get to 300 is to issue 300. Congratulations!

Bob Fleck, the founder of Oak Knoll Books in New Castle, Delaware recently passed by one of those milestones you cannot quickly reach, the issuance of his 300th catalogue.  Few houses get this far and many that have are now the famous, even storied stalwarts of the valuable and collectible book field.  Maggs Brothers, Sotherans, and Bernard Quaritch in London, George MacManus in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, and Goodspeed’s in Boston come to mind as prolific multi-generational booksellers who have reached this mark.   There are others of course but its an exclusive group.  Like hitting 300 major league home runs it takes skill, luck and many years.
   

Bob, an engineer by training and a bibliophile himself, brought a flexible approach to his business that has helped him find success into his fourth decade as a bookseller.  “Staying relevant has required staying focused.  The business has been changing.”

He recalls posting his material on line for the first time in the mid-1980s.  “It was easy then.  There weren’t so many listings.”  Over the past 10 years it has become much more competitive.

Since 1978 he’s also been publishing as the Oak Knoll Press and found the symbiotic relationship of these businesses beneficial to both.  The Press publishes about 25 titles a year.

Looking ahead he’s optimistic and explains, “It’s in my nature.  I see possibilities.”  His son Rob, now 27, is working with him and this is something he appreciates.

 

Reflecting on the many changes since he started in 1976 he mentions the slow decline in traditional book fairs and bookshops.  An ever-higher percentage of our sales are on line and subject to very competitive pricing but also notes that the Oak Knoll Fest [XVIII] with symposiums and discussions that he runs in New Castle [and just completed recently] is very strong.  “It’s part of being flexible.”

Catalogues of course remain important although the number of catalogues issued has declined.  “For years we issued 12 a year.  This year its 4.”  The business is increasingly online.

It is perhaps best to think of Bob as a bronco rider.  He knows how to ride but you never really know the horse.  The book field is like that anymore.  It changes and Bob is an old hand at adjusting.

For the signal event of issuing his 300th catalogue his team has assembled a 271 item, 152 page full color 8x11” catalogue.  It includes material in many of the categories he has been active in over the past 36 years:

Bookbinding

Book Collecting, Bookselling and Publishing History

Book Illustration

Cartography

Delaware History

Book and Graphic Design

Private and Fine Press

Papermaking

Printing History

Reference and Bibliography

Type Specimens

Writing and Calligraphy

Here are links to Catalogue 300.  You can order by phone or email.  On the Oak Knoll site you can also search all of their roughly 22,000 items.

The Oak Knoll website:  http://www.oakknoll.com/

Telephone:  302.328.7232

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Caius Julius Hyginus, <i>Poeticon Astronomicon,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1482. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Giovanni Botero, <i>Le Relationi Universali... divise in Sette Parti</i>, Venice, 1618. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> <i>L'Escole des Filles</i>, likely third edition of the first work of pornographic fiction in French, 1676. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Illuminated Book of Hours in Latin on vellum, Flanders, early 16th century. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes Regiomontanus, <i>Calendarium,</i> Venice, 1485. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Pedro de Medina, <i>Libro d[e] gra[n]dezas y cosas memorables de España,</i> Alcalá de Henares, 1566. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b><br>Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> Salamanca, circa 1496-97. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Andrés Serrano, <i>Los Siete Principes de los Ángeles, válidos de Rey del Cielo,</i> Spain, 1707. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes de Sacrobosco, <i>Sphaera mundi,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1478. $15,000 to $20,000.
  • <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> A Rare 3-rotor German Enigma I Enciphering Machine. $70,000 to $90,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Important collection of correspondence between Werner Heisenberg and Bruno Rossi. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Walt Whitman Autograph manuscript containing his thoughts on death. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> David Roberts. <i>Holy Land</i>. Six volumes. 1842-1849. First edition. $15,000 to $25,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Extensive collection of Ray Bradbury's primary works, most signed or inscribed. $15,000 to $20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Peter Force. Declaration of Independence. $12,000 to $18,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Steinbeck. <i>Grapes of Wrath</i>. A fine copy of the first edition. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Lewis & Clark. <i>Travels to the Source of the Missouri River</i>... First English edition, extra-illustrated. 1814. $10,000 to 15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Manuscript document signed by Nuno de Guzman relating to Hernan Cortes, 1528. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> “Nos los inquisidores..." The first book in English printed West of the Mississippi. [1787]. $5,000 to $8,000.

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