Rare Book Monthly
Book Catalogue Reviews - October - 2009 Issue
More "Books About Books" from Oak Knoll
By Michael Stillman
Oak Knoll Books has issued a new catalogue of "books about books" and bibliographies. This is Catalogue 291 of a series that began several decades ago. Oak Knoll specializes in books about the book trade or the various arts involved in producing books, such as binding, papermaking, illustration, and typefaces. You will also find many books from fine private presses. Additionally, you will see some very special books that may not quite fit the category of "books about books" as well. We'll take a look inside and describe a few of the books Oak Knoll has for us this time.
Here is a catalogue with two connections to the book-collecting world. Item 155 is an 1873 catalogue for Hoe & Co., Manufacturers of Type-Revolving, Perfecting, Single and Double Cylinder and Adams' Printing Machines... Hoe & Co. was formed in 1823 by Robert Hoe, who introduced steam presses to America. However, it was his son, Richard Hoe, who greatly advanced the process with his cylinder and rotary presses, which were much faster than the old flat sheet presses. Richard was in charge of the firm at the time of this catalogue, and the family was already very wealthy. Eventually, leadership would go to his nephew, Robert Hoe III, and this Robert would also become America's greatest bibliophile of the era. When his collection was auctioned in 1911, two years after his death, it was far and away the largest (in terms of value) American book auction in history. This rare catalogue of printing equipment is priced at $2,250.
Item 227 is an incunable work by a most surprising man, Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini: Epistolae Familiares, published in 1478. Aeneas was born in Siena in 1405 of a very large family. Aeneas was a roguish young man in his youth. He reportedly fathered two illegitimate children but nonetheless, after some time as a teacher, became a functionary of the Church. Still, his risqué ways continued with the writing of an erotic story, The Tale of Two Lovers, in 1444 (it would become very popular some years later thanks to the invention of printing). Who would have thought that such a man would be named Pope just 14 years later? Times were different then. Aeneas, who became Pope Pius II in 1458, managed to adjust himself to the times, and was a consummate diplomat. However, his evolution over the years was more than a cynical ploy for power. As his responsibilities grew, he grew into his roles, and he is remembered as a good pope, though his attempts to suppress his earlier books were unsuccessful. Item 227 is a copy of his respectable title Epistolae Familiares. $12,000.
Not everyone is a fan of book collecting. Item 42 is an 1892 Grolier Club translation of the Louis Bollioud-Mermet critique, Crazy Book-Collecting, or Bibliomania, Showing the Great Folly of Collecting Rare and Curious Books... Mermet was himself once a collector, but evidently became disenchanted as a result of skyrocketing prices of many older books. Mermet's belief was the books should be cherished for their content, the learning within, not for their rarity, age, or attractiveness. These were the factors that were driving up prices. Writes Mermet, "...to possess collections of books with neither the capacity nor the will to read and to study, is a strange Mania, a blind obsession. To heap up volumes without a use for them...is an absurd vanity, an idle extravagance." In its introduction, the Grolier Club notes, "Book-lovers...will not be influenced by anything Bollioud-Mermet wrote in the eighteenth...century." $125.
Here is another man with a grievance. Herman Hooker was not happy with churches publishing books, evidently because he thought it unseemly that they engage in such business, and because they competed with the book trade. Mr. Hooker expressed his view in 1849 in An Appeal to the Christian Public on the Evil and Impolicy of the Church Engaging in Merchandise; and Setting Forth the Wrong Done to Booksellers, and the Extravagance, Inutility, and Evil-Working, of Charity Publication Societies. Rather than publishing books and selling them below cost, he felt churches should use their money for more important activities. As best we can tell, Hooker's influence proved to be nil. Item 157. $325.
Oak Knoll Books may be reached at 302-328-7232 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Their website is www.oakknoll.com.
You will find many of Oak Knoll's books listed in "Books For Sale" on this site. Click here.