Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - May - 2009 Issue

Books About Books and More from Oak Knoll

Oakknoll290

Catalogue 290 from Oak Knoll Books.


By Michael Stillman

Oak Knoll Books has issued a new catalogue in its long-running series on books about books. This is number 290, and if you've missed most of the others, one of the items being offered is an almost complete run of their previous catalogues. While the types of books offered are similar to previous catalogues - bibliographies, fines press works, books on subjects such as printing, binding, and papermaking - there are lots of new items we have not seen offered before. Here are a few.

We start with an item that will interest Blake collectors: Alexander Gilchrist's Life of William Blake. With Selections from his Poems and Other Writings. This is a two-volume work published in 1863. Volume 1 contains a biography of Blake and numerous works of his in facsimile. Volume 2 includes selections of his works, including his best-known poems, Songs of Innocence and Experience, 37 plates of his designs, and 29 previously unpublished poems. Item 28. Priced at $450.

Thomas Bewick was a contemporary of Blake, but he is noted for his wood engravings, with a specialty in birds and animals. This explains why item 12, the earliest posthumous account of his life, comes from the Transactions of the Natural History Society of Northumberland. The title is Sketch of the Life and Works of the Late Thomas Bewick...Read June 15, 1830 (published in 1831). Bewick died in 1828, and is still regarded by many as the greatest wood engraver ever. Laid in is a small broadside noting Bewick's death, place of burial, and survivors. $350.

Item 115 is a first edition, one of 100 numbered copies on hand-made paper of One Hundred Title-Pages, 1500-1800... This 1928 work by A.F. Johnson consists of someone's choice of the 100 most famous books, with reproductions of the title pages displayed along with information about each book. $250.

Item 155 is the lot for those who would like more than just Oak Knoll's most recent catalogue. It is a collection of all but one of the bookseller's catalogues from issue number 1 through 288 (number 239 is missing). This consists of over 30 years of catalogues covering books about books and the book arts, and there must be some enormous number of titles covered as Oak Knoll catalogues usually contained a large number of items. Think of this as some sort of massive, priced bibliography of books about books. $450.

Here is an example of how fine books were sold in another era. Item 190 is a salesman's sample book for James G. Blaine's Twenty Years of Congress, from Lincoln to Garfield, 1861-1881. Hopefully the book was an accurate look at the era, even if Blaine is best remembered as "the continental liar from the state of Maine." The book was published in 1883, and the following year Blaine would be running for president himself, and would break the twenty-year streak of Republican presidents he described in his book by losing the election. This salesman's copy includes selections from the pages and steel portraits that appeared in the book. This copy contains a list of the names of the salesman's subscribers, their residences, occupations, and which of the four offered bindings they chose. $125.

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