Books About, and Not About, Books, from Oak Knoll
By Michael Stillman
Oak Knoll Books has issued catalogue number 271 in its specialty, "books about books." This field covers such topics as bibliography, binding, printing, papermaking, and even some very esoteric niches. For example, item 442 is C.H. Bloy's A History of Printing Ink Balls and Rollers, 1440-1850 (priced at $45). Oak Knoll describes this as the "definitive book on the subject," and we suspect that is true because it is likely the only book on the subject. But, where else but Oak Knoll could you even hope to find a book on this topic? Now, many of you may respond by saying that you really have no interest in ink balls and rollers. I imagine the number of collectors who do not collect books in the field of ink balls and rollers is in the ninety-nine point many more nines percentile. Nevertheless, if Oak Knoll can offer a book on this obscure a topic, what in the book arts would they not offer? Considering that this catalogue alone contains over one thousand listings, I imagine the answer is nothing.
Now this brings us to a totally unrelated topic. While most of what Oak Knoll has to offer is clearly in the "books about books" category, some of these items seem to push the limits. For example, there is a nice group of detective stories here. The connection may be something like the characters having some relationship to the book trade. The result is some things show up in an Oak Knoll catalogue you might not expect. So this month, we will look at some of the less obvious items for an Oak Knoll catalogue. Consider it as notice for non-book arts specialists to also be on the lookout for Oak Knoll's offerings.
Item 16 is a 1938 tribute to George Gershwin, edited by Merle Armitage. It is filled with articles from a who's who of the music business, including his brother, Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Oscar Hammerstein, Jerome Kern, Rudy Valee, and many more. Also include are 16 portraits and caricatures of the famed composer. $100. If you prefer something more jazzy, there is Swing That Music, by a man more noted for authoring music than books, Louis Armstrong. This 1936 book is both an autobiography of Armstrong's early days and career, and a validation of this new music, then referred to as "swing," though more commonly called "jazz" today. Item 17. $350.
The star-crossed Bronte sisters, who achieved great literary success in their short lives, are well known. Less remembered is their brother, Branwell Bronte, who also suffered a short life but without the achievements. It is a sad tale, since he was apparently as naturally talented as his sisters. Branwell briefly held jobs as a portrait painter, tutor to several wealthy families, and a railway clerk (he was fired for incompetence). None lasted very long before he was dismissed. His last tutorial position was with the Robinson family of Thorp Green Hall, near York. He was fired for having an affair with - you guessed it - Mrs. Robinson! This was 1845, and after three more years spent with alcohol and drugs, Branwell died of "consumption" at age 31. Here's to you, Branwell Bronte: Profligate Son, Branwell Bronte and His Sisters, by Joane Rees. Item 665. $20.