Early Printing and Leaf Books from Oak Knoll
By Michael Stillman
Oak Knoll Books' latest catalogue, number 263, is called "Early Printing and Leaf Books." Oak Knoll is a specialist in bibliography and other "books about books." This catalogue contains many bibliographies, plus bookseller and auction catalogues, the latter covering many of the most important sales of early collections from the past century.
The first section is dedicated to leaf books. For those not familiar, a "leaf book" is a book containing a leaf or leaves from other books. Often these will be early and important works. Complete copies of such works are out of the financial reach of most collectors, but the leaf book enables those with less than unlimited funds to still enjoy owning a part these rare books. While we wouldn't want to see good copies of rare old books broken apart this way, it is a logical use for damaged and incomplete copies, allowing many people to own a piece of the book. For those interested in learning more about leaf books, here's a book just published this year: Disbound and Dispersed: The Leaf Book Considered. Various essays cover the history of this genre, from its start in the 19th century. One is something of a detective story, tracing the Caxton Club of Chicago's 1905 leaf book, which used leaves from an incomplete copy of William Caxton's "Canterbury Tales," the first book printed in England. A checklist of 242 leaf books is also provided. Item 2. Priced at $45.
One of the earliest leaf books, published in 1895, is The Early Oxford Press, a Bibliography of Printing and Publishing at Oxford, 1468-1640, by Falconer Madan. This book had a limited print run, as most leaf books of necessity do, 700 copies in all. It includes three leaves from early books published at Oxford. Item 45. $250.
Item 44 is David Littlejohn's Dr. Johnson and Noah Webster. Two Men and Their Dictionaries. This 1971 publication of the Book Club of California not only recounts the two best-known dictionary compilers, but includes a leaf from those created by each. For Samuel Johnson, it's a 1755 dictionary, for Noah Webster, an 1828 edition. $200.
"Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland," by Raphael Holinshed provided Shakespeare the historical background for many of his works. "MacBeth," in particular, is based on the accounts Holinshed had provided in this 1587 work. Details are provided in the 1968 Book Club of California publication, The Book Called Holinshed's Chronicles, an Account of Its Inception, Purpose, Contributors, Contents, Publication, Revision and Influence on William Shakespeare. What's more, it includes a leaf from the 1587 edition. Item 30. $300.