Fine Press Books from Oak Knoll
Contemporary Fine Press Books from Oak Knoll.
By Michael Stillman
Catalogue 281 has rolled off the press at Oak Knoll Books and it represents a departure, or perhaps evolution from their typical catalogue. The usual Oak Knoll catalogue contains something in the area of a thousand books, scattered among numerous topics within their "books about books" and bibliography fields. Number 281 contains just 75 items, and they are all within the topic of Contemporary Fine Press Books.
This change is evidently not an aberration, but an evolution in the firm's method of selling books. As noted in the new catalogue, they have been reevaluating "how we can best tell you of our 20,000+ titles...without boring the heck out of you," along with pointing out "we also need to save a forest or two..." The result is a more limited selection described in the catalogue, coupled with instructions on making better use of their website. Here is where we see the evolution of bookselling. Rather than having to read through a thousand listings to find the book you want, the website allows for quick searches and pinpoint targeting of the titles you might like. The "advanced search" not only allows you to select particular titles, but search within specific topics using keywords, publisher, price, language, date and such. Alternatively, you may browse the listings within specific fields. Since this number may be even larger than a typical Oak Knoll catalogue contains (they note that while this catalogue contains 75 fine press books, they have 1,809 in inventory) you can browse by subtopic. So, with "fine press books," you may limit your browsing to those of the 19th, 20th, or 21st century, to bibliography, to U.S., U.K. or Canadian books, to leaf books, to Limited Editions Club books, or other specific areas.
However, Oak Knoll notes that "the roots of our business go back to sending you printed information and we refuse to let that part of our business die." Certainly it would be hard to imagine bookselling without catalogues, "books about books" in their own right. Nevertheless, with over 20,000 titles available, and new inventory being added regularly, it is impossible to ignore the convenience only possible through the technology of online search. So, bookselling evolves, and Oak Knoll is adjusting to the times while still retaining a part of tradition. That's a fair compromise.
This latest catalogue of fine press books contains 75 items, all from different presses. It provides a great overview of the type of material Oak Knoll has to offer. Here are a few samples which should, like the catalogue itself, lead collectors to explore the much wider universe to be found on the Oak Knoll website.
Fine Press Books from Oak Knoll
The head of Babeuf, which was quite literally removed during the French Revolution.
Item 26 is an amusing letter written by college student John Steinbeck to a professor, concerning his experience writing verse. It was published by Sherwood and Katherine Carruth Grover, the latter being the daughter of the recipient professor, at Grace Hoper Press in 1964. In his letter, Steinbeck writes, "Certain events such as love, or a national calamity, or May, bring pressure to bear on the individual, and if the pressure is enough, something in the form of verse is bound to be squeezed out." However, he notes that loves and national calamities have been few in his life, and he does not always succumb to May. Therefore, his poetry has been limited to one war, two girls, and three years. Steinbeck goes on to say, "My first gem called forth quite adverse criticism, although I considered it extremely a propos at the time." It was published on a fence, and went something like "Gertie loves Tom, and / Tom loves Gertie." The attention this work attracted "has made me backward about publishing any of my later works," Steinbeck explains. Perhaps this clarifies why Steinbeck is known for his novels rather than his poetry. Priced at $350.
Item 13 is a Book Club of California printing, The Book Called Holinshed's Chronicles, an Account of its Inceptions, Purpose...and Influence on William Shakespeare. It was printed at the Press of Tuscany Alley in 1968. This is a leaf book, including a leaf from the 1587 edition of Holinshed's Chronicles. $300.
Item 24, from the Gehenna Press, published in 1964, is The Defense of Gracchus Babeuf before the High Court of Vendome. This edition limited to 300 copies includes 21 etched portraits. Babeuf was an extremely radical and violence-oriented socialist at the time of the French Revolution. He promoted the "ideals" of the Reign of Terror even after that particularly unpleasant time came to an end. His radical ideas drew little support, so he was mostly ignored, but with major economic problems and fears of starvation in Paris by 1796, he began to develop a serious following. The government saw fit to put Babeuf on trial, where he was convicted and sent to the guillotine. This book presents part of the defense Babeuf raised at trial. $1,500.
Item 48 is Thoughts from the Letters of Petrarch, from the Petrarch Press. Petrarch was a great Italian humanist of the 14th century, regarded by many as a father of the Reniassance, helping to lift Europe out of the Dark Ages. Petrarch's namesake press issued this book to celebrate his 700th birthday in 2003. While Petrarch was unable to attend the party, his contributions to the arts and humanity warranted this recognition so many years after he "crossed." $875.
Oak Knoll Books may be found online at www.oakknoll.com, telephone 302-328-7232.