Antiquarian Books About Books from Oak Knoll
By Michael Stillman
Most of Oak Knoll Books' catalogues follow a basic format, so we were pleased to find something a little different when we received their catalogue number 272. Yes, it is still dominated by books in the "books about books" or book arts field. Still, this one comes with an unusual title for an Oak Knoll catalogue: Antiquarian Books. Most books we find in the typical Oak Knoll catalogue date from the 20th century. In this catalogue, nary a one does. This is pre-20th century material, mostly from the 18th and 19th centuries, but as far back as the 15th (an incunable from 1478, Epistolae Familiares by Pope Pius II). The result is a catalogue that has a broader appeal than the average Oak Knoll catalogue, as it is filled with nothing but antiquarian volumes. Here are a few of the 639 pieces which predate the last century.
Item 223 is a four-volume compilation of the books in the Harvard Library, at least as of 1830. Safe to say it was smaller then. It is titled, quite appropriately, Catalogue of the Library of Harvard University. However, this one comes with a special association. It includes an inscription from Harvard President Josiah Quincy to "Mr. Daniel Webster L.L.D." Webster was for several decades a Massachusetts senator and was one of the greatest orators and most influential officials of early America. The book was given to Webster in the year he made one of his most famous speeches. In arguing against South Carolina's claim to the right of nullification, that is, a state's right to repudiate federal law and authority, Webster concluded his speech with the famed words, "liberty and union, now and forever, one and inseparable." Perhaps it was this speech which inspired the gift, or possibly Webster's earlier successful legal arguments in defense of Dartmouth College when the State of New Hampshire tried to seize control of it from private trustees. Priced at $250.
Item 167 has one of those titles that sounds less than honest: Distinct and Impartial History of the Conspiracies, Trials, Characters, Behavior and Dying Speeches of All Those who have Suffered on Account of the House of Stewart [Stuart]...a Compendious View of the Plots hatched by That House... With a title like that, are we really supposed to believe this is an "impartial" history? The Stuarts ruled (and misruled) England and Scotland through most of the 17th century and into the early 18th, but were removed after a treaty required that the throne be held by Protestants. However, through the 18th century, including the time this book was published (1747), the Stuarts were still trying to reclaim the throne, which led to the publication of this "impartial" review. $45.