Collecting Delaware Books
My friend and Wilmington bookseller Mort Rosenblatt died on February 7, 1994. He was a true and constant friend throughout all the years I knew him. His many kindnesses to me could never have been repaid, and in the face of his premature death I wish at least to offer this tribute.
I did not know Mort Rosenblatt and the Holly Oak Bookshop at any of the shop's incarnations in Holly Oak, Brandywine Hundred, Delaware. I first met Mort almost ten years ago in the back room of his shop on Seventh Street in Wilmington. I was just starting to collect books and had discovered his shop through the telephone directory. I entered and made my way through the maze of book shelves to the back where Mort greeted me and from whence he directed me to the second and third floors. I brought down from the second floor a copy of the reprint of George Fletcher Bennett's Early Architecture of Delaware, paid for it, and went my way.
The next time I came to the shop I picked out a few more Delaware books, and this time, after paying, Mort invited me to sit and talk over a cup of coffee. During that visit and the many subsequent ones. I learned the importance of working with a bookseller and letting him or her help you develop a collection. Mort was very generous to me over the years, and a great many books in my collection came from Holly Oak. He turned up some real treasures, and his cluttered shop was a veritable trove.
I made reference above to the early "incarnations" of the Holly Oak Bookshop, because Holly Oak was a movable bookshop. Over the years the shop was in at least six locations. A year or so after I met Mort, he moved his shop around the comer from Seventh Street to Tatnall Street. This shop was considerably larger and had four levels.
At the Tatnall Street shop I got to know Mort's wife Alexandra and his sons who worked with him in the business — David, Jon, and (in the summer months) Mark. This was my favorite of all the Holly Oak Bookshops. There was room after room of books, pamphlets, maps, and boxes of ephemera. The great thing about a movable bookshop is that all manner of things surface after each move. The move to Tatnall Street was my first opportunity to plumb the depths of the stock.
During this happy time my visits became more frequent, and I became a regular. Mort always kept me in mind, and each time I visited him he would have, without fail, some treasure for me. It was not necessarily something rare or expensive, but was rather, more often than not, some "weird" bit of Delawareana that I would be very hard pressed to ever find again. His kind remembrance, however, was more important than the item in hand.
Visiting Holly Oak was like attending a levee. Mort would be surrounded by an entourage of family, workers and assorted hangers-on, customers, and folks from the neighborhood. Work would be going on in the shop, orders given to workers, anecdotes related, ribald jokes told, coffee poured, and business transacted. More and more it seemed almost as if the books were becoming secondary and the people and general comradeship the principal attraction. Mort and David worked seven days a week, so the shop was always open to me.
After a few years on Tatnall, the bookshop moved back to Seventh Street, but to a different location than before. This shop was all on one level and was at first very neat and orderly. The move once again stirred up the pot, and the treasures surfaced anew. The shop soon filled with boxes and the aisles became narrower. Once again a move was planned.
The Holly Oak Bookshop moved to Market Street in the late summer or early autumn of 1992. Mort, Alex, and David were looking forward to Holly Oak having a permanent home. The shop was well stocked and nicely appointed and prints covered the walls. A second floor art gallery was set up.
In December 1992 Mort suffered a devastating stroke. Over the next year, he, Alex, and David carried on, but when it became apparent that Mort could not return to work, it was decided to close the shop. In January 1994, the shop opened its doors for the last time. A few weeks later Mort died.
I have many memories of Mort and the Holly Oak Bookshop. I met people and made friends in his shop, and the many hours spent in his company and with his family were happy ones. I should add that my first job in book selling was in his shop, and I will never forget that experience. I will miss Mort very much.
As a final and fitting tribute to Mort, Bob Fleck of Oak Knoll Books has proposed that donations be made to the University of Delaware Library, so a rare book can be added to the library's collection in Mort's memory. The university will acknowledge your gift, and a letter will be sent to Mort's wife Alexandra listing all friends who contributed. Mail your gift to the Office of the Director, Morris Library, University of Delaware, Newark DE 19717. [written April 1994]