Bright Young Things: Rob Fleck

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Rob Fleck of Oak Knoll Books in New Castle, Delaware. Rob’s father, Bob, founded Oak Knoll Books in 1976.

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NP: Considering your father owns Oak Knoll, you must’ve grown up around old and rare books.  Did you develop an interest in rare books early in life?  Or did you come to it later?

RF: I actually wasn’t a big reader when I was a child. However, my interest for antiquarian books came with the subject matter. My grandfather was a war veteran from World War II (navigator on a B-24 based out of southern Italy) and I was lucky enough to have my grandparents move from Chicago to New Castle, DE when I was born. I was always around them as they only lived two blocks down the street. Anyway, because of him and his experience in WWII, I became fascinated with the history of the war. I started to read personal memoirs, historical accounts, and interviews which helped me build my (extremely small) library of books concerning WWII. I even have all 18 missions of my grandfather’s navigation logs, including a few training missions, which caused me to visit a few flea markets to see if any WWII memorabilia was for sale. Even though the official date of the war was from 1939 - 1945, not many books survived from that time period, making it that much more exciting!



NP: On a related note, did you always plan to go to work at Oak Knoll or did you consider other options / fields first?

RF: Well, I graduated from the University of Delaware with a degree in Psychology because I was interested in the way people formed relationships and how those relationships affect them throughout life (my favorite psychologist to study was Erik Erikson). I always viewed myself as a ‘people-person’, so why not make a profession of it?

NP: 

What do you personally collect?  And did you start collecting at a young age?

RF: Going back to my Grandfather, I love collecting WWII memorabilia. However, I am definitely interested in 17th and 18th century art, particularly portraits. I also enjoy Howard Pyle and John Schoonover, however who doesn’t like those talented Delaware artists?



NP: Favorite book (or etc) you’ve handled?

We had a lovely copy of the Kelmscott Chaucer in pig-skin and boards. I always found Kelmscott titles to be beautiful not just because of the extravagant woodcuts, but wanting to make the book more than just a reading object affected the book trade entirely. However, if you were to ask my father, I feel that he may say his page of the Gutenberg Bible that he had over 20 years ago would be pretty high up there as well.

NP: What do you love about the book trade?

RF: For me the one thing that I love more about the book trade more than anything else is simple: the people. Going to book fairs is one of my favorite tasks to do for Oak Knoll. Many members of the ABAA/ILAB are extremely caring, nice, interesting individuals that all share the same interests. Very few of them don’t go out of their way to help you if you have a problem. Not to mention the countless amazing stories about bookselling and book collecting that are told around a shared bottle of wine.

NP: Do you plan to take over Oak Knoll Books one day, or to start your own venture?

RF: Absolutely! I feel that Oak Knoll will always have a place in antiquarian bookselling because of the subject matter in which we deal in. However, I have always been an avid home chef, and while some booksellers think that antiquarian books and food don’t mix very well, I think that it would create the ultimate ‘comfort food’ to have an antiquarian book store and a restaurant in the same establishment. However, this could just be some crazy idea from a young bookseller!

NP: Any thoughts to share on the future of the book trade?

RF: It will get tougher, that’s for sure. I can see many of our bibliography titles migrating to free online databases, but many of our books aren’t necessarily about the content, it’s about the collectability. However, we have very good customers of ours whose collecting interests are strictly bibliography. Other subjects including bookbinding, printing, and typography, are collectible on their own. Books like these could have illustrations of bookbinding and printing tools, or big bold woodblock lettering that gives them that sex appeal.



NP: Tell us about your new catalogue, your involvement with it, and how to obtain a copy:

RF: Our newest general catalogue 298 actually came out in late January, 2012. We had some large (and very exciting) collections that came in during 2011 that we had to split up into multiple catalogues. Our newest special catalogue, #18, features a lovely collection of private press material that we got from a retired, but still practicing, lawyer from Washington, D.C. However, catalogue 299 will be completely designed by myself, typography and all, as I am somewhat familiar with typesetting programs such as Adobe InDesign. You can actually write an email to us at oakknoll@oakknoll.com requesting a physical copy of a catalogue, or you may visit the catalogue section of our website.


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