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The IOBA Standard is the journal of the Independent Online Booksellers Association and covers the book world, with a special focus on the online used, out-of-print, and collectible bookselling markets.


Michael Guessford – Oak Knoll Press


Contact Info: 310 Delaware Street, New Castle, DE 19720

Phone: 302/328-7232

FAX: 302/328-7274

When was Oak Knoll Press started?

Oak Knoll started out in 1976 in New Castle, DE. We moved again, as we grew, and then in 1999 we moved to our current building, which was our town’s Opera House built in 1879.

Were all three of you involved in the start-up?

The business actually started with just Bob (Robert D. Fleck).

John von Hoelle was owner of Dyne-American Publications, which he sold in 1995 and retired. He was asked by Bob to take over his publishing division in 1996.

Michael Guessford has an extensive background in newspaper, media and retail marketing.

What actually was needed to start Oak Knoll?

Bob started the business with his extensive personal collection, which became our first catalog.

What gave you the idea of starting this publishing company, i.e., was it a niche that wasn’t being filled previously? 

A life long love of books and book collecting, and we wanted to specialize in books about books.

Had you (or any of your principals) been involved in publishing or the book world previously?


Are or were any of you booksellers and, if so, new, used, or both?

Yes. Both new and used.

And do you continue to operate also as booksellers apart from Oak Knoll Press books?

Yes. Oak Knoll Books is the Antiquarian book selling part of the business. Oak Knoll Press is the publishing part of the business.

How did you decide what particular types of books to specialize in, and what are all your specialties?

Oak Knoll Books and Oak Knoll Press are specialists in books about books.

We sell, publish and distribute books in the fields of:

Bibliography, Book Collecting, Book Arts, Books about Children’s Books, Book History, Bookplates, Book Trade, Forgery, Censorship, Libraries, Publishing, Bookbinding, Book Design, Illustration and Graphic Arts, Marbling, Color Printing, Printing and Printing History, Papermaking and Paper Specimens, Topography and Typeface Specimens, Private Press Books and Fine Printing.

Can you give us some information on establishing and running a publishing house, i.e., is there a huge initial expenditure on equipment?

The expense is not in equipment; it is in capital required for production. No equipment needs to be purchased other than basic computers. All printing and binding is out sourced.

How hard is it for a publisher in the start-up period to attract the right personnel?

This is one of your most important assets.

How do you decide how many copies of any particular book to print initially?

Estimate sales for the first 18 months (based on intuition and 30 years of experience).

Do you keep publicly available records on how many copies of a 1st printing were done (this question coming from a bookseller who knows how difficult it is to get that information from many publishers)?


How do you attract authors of books of the type you’d like to publish?

We advertise in our catalogs, web site, trade shows and conventions.

In a related vein, how much of publishing is automated now?

Very little. Some functions in the printing and binding are automated. Usually there is an inquiry about a manuscript. If this inquiry is within our publishing focus, we will ask for an outline (as stated on our web site). If accepted, the manuscript is first submitted in hard copy form (printed form). Corrections are done on the hard copy and sent back to the author for corrections, if needed. MS is sent to the typographer. And a dust jacket is designed on the computer. Then everything is sent to the printer.

I’m assuming unless you’re issuing a special limited edition of great quality on special paper in a small initial run that actual printing presses are not used anymore?

Printing presses are always used for our books. Our books are library quality and produced to last for centuries of archival use. Hard covers are Smyth sewn.

Are computers somehow hooked to actual printing presses, or are books printed now on high capability computer printers?

Yes, we use C to P technology.

Are special, very high quality books still handled by hand during the printing and binding processes?

None of our books are done by hand.

What can you tell us about your plans and/or dreams for the future for Oak Knoll Press?

We expect to become the leading publisher of books about books. We now co-publish our books with The Library of Congress, The British Library and 30 other prominent scholarly publishers around the world.

Where would you like to be, business-wise, in five years?

Still in business printing books.

In ten years?

The same.

Tell us about Book Fest IX that is planned for this coming October, please.

One of the largest fine press fairs in North America will be holding its ninth international celebration of the Book Arts at Oak Knoll Fest IX on Saturday, October 5 and Sunday, October 6, 2002. The fest offers an unique adventure for fine book lovers, collectors, and those wanting to learn more about the book arts to intermingle with fine press book traditionalists from Russia, France, Germany, England, Wales, Canada and the United States. Set in the historic, colonial town of Old New Castle, Delaware (on the Delaware River), this two-day event connects fine presses and their books with collectors, librarians, and booksellers.

Oak Knoll Fest Fine Press Exhibition will have 40 private press printing masters coming from Russia, France, Germany, United Kingdom, Canada and United States displaying and selling their fine press books. Miniature book private presses will also be displaying books.

Nicolas and Frances McDowall (husband and wife) of The Old Stile Press will be sharing their 23 years of fine press experience on Saturday, October 5, 2002 at 10:00 AM at St. Immanuel Hall in New Castle, DE. Nicolas (book designer, sometimes author, and printer of the company) will be speaking on the subjects of “Why do we publish the kind of books we do” and “Where do we get our ideas.” Frances (papermaker, promoter and ‘everything else’) will offer thoughts on “Papermaking for printer and printmaker” and “The need to respond promptly to librarians and collectors as well as pack parcels, keep account records and travel the world to book fairs!”

The Old Stile Press designs, prints by hand, and publishes books in editions limited to between 100 and 250 copies. These books involve texts of importance, whether new or reprinted, together with suites of wood engravings, woodcuts, linocuts and other relief blocks made by the artist-printmakers in collaboration with The Old Stile Press.

Nicolas and Frances both have said, “High technical standards are paramount, whether we use older printing methods or take advantage of new technologies and materials to achieve the results we desire. The operation has always been (and will remain) ‘hands-on’ for the two of us and entirely bounded by our capabilities, enthusiasms and energies at any given moment.”

To find out more about The Old Stile Press, go to

Priscilla Juvelis of Priscilla Juvelis, Inc. (seller of rare and fine books including first editions, women’s authors, and 20th Century Book Arts) will be speaking to us on Sunday, October 6, 2002 at 10:00 AM at St. Immanuel Hall in New Castle, DE. Priscilla will be speaking on the “Contemporary Book Arts and their Historical Antecedents” – which will cover the development of the book arts from the beginning through to the present, using examples from various book arts including designer binding, calligraphy, artist books and private press books.

Priscilla Juvelis, Inc., a private dealer established in 1980, specializes in the sale of rare books and autographs to institutions and private collectors. Formerly associated with the late John F. Fleming of New York, Priscilla Juvelis is an active member of the international rare book community. A member of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America and International League of Antiquarian Booksellers since 1983, she served the ABAA as President (1998-2000), after serving as Vice President and Secretary and as a member of the Board of Governors from 1988-2002. She has served as President of the Massachusetts and Rhode Island Antiquarian Booksellers. She is a lifetime member of the Manuscript Society and served as a Trustee of that organization for three years. She is a member of the Grolier Club and the International Association of Bibliophiles. To find out more about Priscilla Juvelis, Inc., go to

Oak Knoll Books will also hold its once-a-year, two-day 20% OFF SALE on all antiquarian and new titles during the fair, including Oak Knoll Press titles. Oak Knoll Books is one of the foremost specialists in antiquarian and new books about books, the history of the book, and the book arts. Oak Knoll Press annually publishes 40 titles in these fields.

If you love fine, collectible books produced by masters of printing and the book arts, do not miss this rare chance to meet the fine press printers in person and see their books. Plan to visit this year’s fair to show your support for those carrying on the revered traditions of fine bookmaking and browse the thousands of titles offered for sale. Join other book lovers, collectors, and renowned private presses in learning about and preserving interest in the arts of fine printing and book collecting.

For more details, directions, and travel information, contact: Oak Knoll Books, 310 Delaware Street, New Castle DE 19720 USA. Phone (302) 328-7232 / Fax (302) 328-7274 / Email

Has the internet had an effect on your business and, if so, in what manner?

Yes. It is a growing resource for sales and marketing.

How about some information about all of you involved with Oak Knoll Press?

Robert D. Fleck, publisher, 55, graduate of University of Virginia. He received his masters at the University of Delaware. He is past President of ABAA and incoming President of ILAB. He is married with four children and lives in New Castle, DE.

John Lewis von Hoelle, Director of Publishing, 62, masters at the University of Cambridge, UK. Member of the American Publishers Association and AFIO.

He is married with five children and lives in Wilmington, DE.

Michael Guessford, Marketing Director, 46, graduate of Wilmington College (DE).

Twenty-five years experience in marketing and publicity. He is married with one child and lives in Newark, DE.

Any advice for any of our readers who might be interested in getting into the publishing business?

Have a lot of cash!

Thank you so much for allowing us to interview you!




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