Oak Knoll Books has published their Catalogue 308 A Summer Miscellany of Books About Books. Most books are about something else, history, science, fantasy, anything. Oak Knoll specializes in books that are about books themselves. In this catalogue, they have broken the field down into subtopics for convenience, those being featured books; book collecting, selling and publishing; book design; book illustration; bookbinding; fine and private press; general books-about-books; and reference and bibliography. Here are a few selections from this assembly of books that are about books.
Those who collect books about books must love books doubly, so we will start with a man who loved books as much as anyone, or at least he pursued their collection with a passion beyond imagination. No one else of which I'm aware has ever tried to collect a copy of every book, and every piece of printed or manuscript paper, ever produced. If Sir Thomas Phillipps did not quite achieve that goal, he gave it a startlingly good try. Item 19 is Phillipps Studies by A. N. L. Munby, five volumes published 1951-1960. Phillipps bought up books and manuscripts, often in bulk, during the middle of the 19th century. He so filled his home that there was barely enough room to get around, with piles stacked to the ceiling. He spent every penny he could get his hands on to purchase more. Phillipps was a preservationist, wishing to preserve a copy of everything that had ever been printed. Thankfully, his task has since been taken over by libraries. Sadly, Phillipps collection could not be kept together, and it was sold over a series of auctions that went on for over a century. Priced at $475.
Another man who loved books beyond what most might think rational was Thomas Frognall Dibdin. However, Dibdin collected on a more rational level, having neither the financial resources nor the willingness to throw them all at books the way the obsessed Phillipps did. What Dibdin did was write several books about the ecstasies of book collecting, along with some more objective works about his favorite subject. Item 16 is Dibdin's An Introduction to the Knowledge of Rare and Valuable Editions of the Greek and Latin Classics Together with an Account of Polyglot Bibles, Greek Bibles and Greek Testaments; the Greek Fathers and the Latin Fathers. This is an expanded 1827 fourth edition of a valuable reference about publications from antiquity, 3,500 of them. $1,250.
Another obsessive bibliofile was Thomas J. Cobden-Sanderson, though his obsession was more with quality than books per se. Cobden-Sanderson was a good friend of William Morris, the most notable of private press operators, owner of the legendary Kelmscott Press. He was also a bookbinder, and with Morris' encouragement, produced many fine bindings for Kelmscott and other books. After Morris' death, Cobden-Sanderson went into partnership to form Doves Press with Emery Walker. The partnership broke apart as Cobden-Sanderson did not believe Walker was sufficiently dedicated. Their agreement provided that when Cobden-Sanderson died, the Doves type would go to Walker, but Comden-Sanderson did not believe anyone else would treat his type with the same level of care as he, so when he closed Doves Press down, Cobden-Sanderson threw all his type into the Thames. His widow ended up having to pay for that. Cobden-Sanderson returned to bookbinding at the Doves Bindery for the seven years remaining in his life after closing Doves Press. Item 76 is The Doves Bindery, a detailed account of the bindery and catalogue of the books it produced, by Marianne Tidcombe, published in 1991. $250.
Item 225 provides an opportunity to look at a great writer during his formative years: Notes and Journal of Travel in Europe 1804-1805. These notes were produced by a young Washington Irving, published in three volumes in 1921 by the Grolier Club. At this time, Irving, who had just turned 21, had done some newspaper writing, but was planning to become a lawyer. His health was not great, so his brothers financed his long trip to Europe. During this time, Irving would develop eyes, ears and social social skills he needed to become a writer, once he concluded that the bar was not meant to be his lot in life. $350.
Item 133 is a set of two volumes, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. It was published in 1,500 copies by the Limited Editions Club in 1932. Each book is signed, but obviously not by Lewis Carroll/Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, the author. He died in 1898. No, it is signed by Alice herself. Alice Liddell was the young girl who provided the model for Alice in the books. Now Alice Hargreaves, Alice was 80 years old when the Limited Editions Club convinced her to put her signature to their edition. $4,500.