20th Century Private Presses and<br>Printing from Oak Knoll Books
By Michael Stillman
Oak Knoll Books has issued its 255th catalogue and the title is “Fine Printing & Private Press in 20th Century North America.” What’s amazing about Oak Knoll is that they issue catalogues in very specific niches, and then somehow manage to fill them with huge numbers of titles. In this case, Oak Knoll is offering 969 items for sale.
Much of the material comes from smaller, often short-run presses. Those who collect the work of these fine presses will want to look through this catalogue for their favorites. Names such as Grabhorn, Overbrook, Bird and Bull, and Castle are just a few of the names represented. There’s even one from the obscure Toothpaste Press out of West Branch, Iowa. Additionally, many of the books here offered are specifically about printing, paper, type, illustration, bibliography, and book collecting. Here are just a few, not particularly typical examples from this catalogue.
On January 9, 1961, a young Massachusetts senator spoke before his home state’s legislature. This brief address was captured and printed by the Overbrook Press. Less than two weeks later, that senator would become the nation’s 35th president and a legend would be born. Item 594 is An Address by John F. Kennedy Delivered Before the Massachusetts Legislature, January 9, 1961. Priced at $30. If, on the other hand, you collect unsuccessful presidential candidates, back in 1940 the Overbrook Press published Occasional Addresses and Articles, to which are Prefixed Biographical Sketches by Wendell Willkie. Willkie was the Republicans’ sacrificial lamb to FDR in the 1940 election. Item 608. $35.
Item 133 is a recent printing of Henry Morris’ Nicolas Louis Robert and his Endless Wire Papermaking Machine from Bird and Bull Press. Robert was the inventor of the papermaking machine, an advance Oak Knoll says “had almost as much impact as Gutenberg’s printing press.” The reason is that it allowed for the mass production of cheap paper, enabling large runs of inexpensive books to bring knowledge to everyone. This book includes copies of five of Robert’s original patent drawings. $400. For papermaking on a smaller scale, there’s Peter Thomas’ Start Making Paper. The book is actually printed on paper hand-made by Thomas and his children. Evidently, Thomas never expected this to become a bestseller, as he printed only 18 copies. It may not be old (printed in 1986), but it surely is rare. Item 880. $75.
If you’re looking for guaranteed rare books, items 11-15 are five titles by Marvin Albert printed by the Alexandria Press in the 1960s: The Magic Clown; Sifting of Infinity; Somewhere Coming Somewhere Going; The Tempest Myth; and This Fact of Man. All were limited to 24 numbered copies, except the last, of which there were but 15. Prices range from $25-$55.