Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - December - 2004 Issue

Part III of the H.P. Kraus Library From Oak Knoll

1204r6

Part III of the Reference Library of H.P. Kraus


By Michael Stillman

Oak Knoll Books
has issued its third volume of books "From the Reference Library of H.P. Kraus." Kraus was the legendary New York bookseller that closed after sixty years as a local institution when Mr. Kraus' widow passed away last year. Along with a reputation for selling the most important of books in the finest condition, Kraus was noted for one of the most extensive reference libraries in private hands. When the Kraus inventory and library went on the auction block at Sotheby's last year, Oak Knoll purchased a large part of the reference material. In this as well as its previous two Kraus catalogues, Oak Knoll has been offering this material, and similar (but not H.P. Krauss) material for sale.

The greatest part of the material breaks out into two types of bibliographies, the standard type and those that catalogued famous collections. The standard type is where the author set about listing all of the books within a certain set of parameters that he could find. They may cover geographic locations, particular authors, time periods, categories such as voyages, or just about anything else. The second type covered the titles in a particular collection. Some are bibliographies of books in the collection of a particular library or other institution, while many are of certain private collections. Of the latter, most are the auction catalogues created after the collector died or chose to dispose of his collection. Most of these auction catalogues go back a long time, frequently a century or more, and there were some amazing collections which came up for sale in that era. Back before much of the best material ended up in institutional holdings, it was still possible to build collections that you would be unlikely to find in private hands today. These catalogues preserve these outstanding collections, even though the books have long since been dispersed.

The auction catalogues, though mostly forgotten today, do provide one major use for modern collectors. Their listings of the items offered for sale provide some of the best bibliographic descriptions ever written. After all, the auction houses weren't just trying to provide an acknowledgement of the books' existence. They were trying to sell them. They needed to provide great descriptions. However, as we now give a few examples from The Oak Knoll catalogue, we will focus on the more traditional bibliographies as the bibliographer had one major advantage over the collector: the bibliographer, not having to buy everything he described, could be much more complete in covering everything printed within the sphere of his bibliography.

Boucher de la Richarderie created one of the best bibliographies of early voyages, published as Bibliotheque Universelle des Voyages in 1808. This is a six-volume set of accounts of voyages from the earliest of times through the 18th century. It describes all types of books and manuscripts concerning these travels, with sections on Europe, Africa, Asia, America, and the Southern Hemisphere and Australia. Item 2199. Priced at $450.

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