Books About, and Not About, Books, from Oak Knoll
Catalogue 271 from Oak Knoll Books.
By Michael Stillman
Oak Knoll Books has issued catalogue number 271 in its specialty, "books about books." This field covers such topics as bibliography, binding, printing, papermaking, and even some very esoteric niches. For example, item 442 is C.H. Bloy's A History of Printing Ink Balls and Rollers, 1440-1850 (priced at $45). Oak Knoll describes this as the "definitive book on the subject," and we suspect that is true because it is likely the only book on the subject. But, where else but Oak Knoll could you even hope to find a book on this topic? Now, many of you may respond by saying that you really have no interest in ink balls and rollers. I imagine the number of collectors who do not collect books in the field of ink balls and rollers is in the ninety-nine point many more nines percentile. Nevertheless, if Oak Knoll can offer a book on this obscure a topic, what in the book arts would they not offer? Considering that this catalogue alone contains over one thousand listings, I imagine the answer is nothing.
Now this brings us to a totally unrelated topic. While most of what Oak Knoll has to offer is clearly in the "books about books" category, some of these items seem to push the limits. For example, there is a nice group of detective stories here. The connection may be something like the characters having some relationship to the book trade. The result is some things show up in an Oak Knoll catalogue you might not expect. So this month, we will look at some of the less obvious items for an Oak Knoll catalogue. Consider it as notice for non-book arts specialists to also be on the lookout for Oak Knoll's offerings.
Item 16 is a 1938 tribute to George Gershwin, edited by Merle Armitage. It is filled with articles from a who's who of the music business, including his brother, Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Oscar Hammerstein, Jerome Kern, Rudy Valee, and many more. Also include are 16 portraits and caricatures of the famed composer. $100. If you prefer something more jazzy, there is Swing That Music, by a man more noted for authoring music than books, Louis Armstrong. This 1936 book is both an autobiography of Armstrong's early days and career, and a validation of this new music, then referred to as "swing," though more commonly called "jazz" today. Item 17. $350.
The star-crossed Bronte sisters, who achieved great literary success in their short lives, are well known. Less remembered is their brother, Branwell Bronte, who also suffered a short life but without the achievements. It is a sad tale, since he was apparently as naturally talented as his sisters. Branwell briefly held jobs as a portrait painter, tutor to several wealthy families, and a railway clerk (he was fired for incompetence). None lasted very long before he was dismissed. His last tutorial position was with the Robinson family of Thorp Green Hall, near York. He was fired for having an affair with - you guessed it - Mrs. Robinson! This was 1845, and after three more years spent with alcohol and drugs, Branwell died of "consumption" at age 31. Here's to you, Branwell Bronte: Profligate Son, Branwell Bronte and His Sisters, by Joane Rees. Item 665. $20.
Books About, and Not About, Books, from Oak Knoll
Here's to you, Mrs. Lydia Robinson.
This book is not quite about a book, and I hesitate to call it about a manuscript either. What is the correct name for a story carved in stone? Item 11 is about the Rosetta Stone, that ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic text carved in rock. It retells the story of its discovery and provides a translation of its words. The book is The British Museum Book of the Rosetta Stone, by Carol Andrews. $20.
Here is the history of a story we all know: Story of Mary and Her Little lamb as told by Mary and Her Neighbors and Friends, to which is added a critical analysis of the poem. Who would have thought someone would document the actual history behind this little children's rhyme? Mary was one Mary Sawyer, who attended a little red school in Sterling, Massachusetts. She lived from 1806 to 1889, but it was one day in 1815 that the lamb was said to have followed her, and inspired a boy named John Roulston to write the famous poem. Anyway, this is how the story goes, and one true believer was Henry Ford, who bought the Sterling schoolhouse in 1927 (and moved it to Sudbury) and published this book in 1928. However, in all fairness, we need to point out that folks in Newport, New Hampshire, claim it was written by their native, Sarah Josepha Hale (perhaps the authorship was split as some verses were added later). Then again, there are those who claim it was plagiarized from an older British poem. Ewe decide. Item 192. $35.
Some words change their meaning with time. Item 332 is The Gay Poet, The Story of Eugene Field. Field was married and had eight children. Some words had different meanings in 1940. However, it can be said that Field wrote happy poetry. His poetry was written for children. He is best known for "Wyken, Blynken and Nod." In dedicating a memorial to Field, Mark Twain said of this children's poet, he "made bright the lives of all who knew him, and by his literary efforts cheered the thoughts of thousands who never knew him." In 1940 parlance, Field was a gay man. $15.
Oak Knoll Books' website is www.oakknoll.com, and phone number 302-328-7232.