Massive Oak Park cookbook collection comes to light

Estate of longtime book dealer moves to new used bookstore

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By Jean Lotus

Forest Park Review Editor

For decades in Forest Park and Oak Park, Joyce Klein ran an antique shop called Little Treasures. A sharp-dressed woman with the British accent of her origins, Joyce was known for her love of cooking and a shrewd eye for antiques and books, especially cookbooks of every description.

"Cookbooks were her passion," said Joyce's daughter, JoAnne Johnson, of LaGrange. 

"If a customer came in asking for a book about Russian cooking, let's say, and she didn't have it, she'd start searching for books about Russian cooking – just in case that person came back."

When Joyce died at 88, thousands of those cook books, along other titles, were left in the Oak Park home on South Home Avenue she bought with husband John in 1958.

Titles ranged from The Complete book of Pickles and Relishes and Hawaii Cookbook, to The Cocktail-Supper Cookbook and The New Joys of Jello.

There were between five- and seven-thousand books in the house this summer when her three children tried to sell them at a series of estate sales.  

Meanwhile, three blocks east, Forest Parker Jim Gibson and Steve Kirshenbaum embarked on a new business that hadn't been seen in Oak Park for years: a used book store.

"Joyce was already an experienced book dealer when I got into the book business in the 1980s," said Gibson. "She had a good eye for the value of books," he added.

Gibson and Kirshenbaum put a sign reading "Now Buying Books" in the window of Looking Glass books, 823 S. Oak Park Ave. 

Eventually Joyce's family and the Looking Glass owners found each other.  

The result is culinary abundance. The Looking Glass shelves are stuffed like a turducken on Thanksgiving day with Joyce's collection of vintage and contemporary cookbooks. Books are even stacked in piles on the floor. 

Gibson said they had to cull the collection somewhat, and boxes of overflow were donated to the Oak Park Public Library book sale. 

"For example, there were four books on Chinese cooking, in Chinese," Gibson said. "We didn't think we could sell those."

Gibson said the store's business plan did not account for such a huge inventory right away. 

"We'll have to make new shelves, but that's OK," he said. 

Gibson said Looking Glass is even starting a cookbook book club.

Joyce Klein loved to cook, said Johnson, and you could see that by the cookbooks she collected. 

The piles of chocolate cookbooks reflect her life as a British subject and U.S. war bride, growing up in England during World War II. Joyce, born in 1924, was a volunteer in the British army. She met John Klein, an American G.I. during the bombing Blitz in London, and they married. 

The couple moved stateside and even brought over Joyce's parents eventually. They raised three children, John Klein, Jr., Susan Pochos and Johnson in the house on Home Avenue. 

"[Joyce] started the shop after her children were grown," Johnson said. "It was something she did to fulfill her dreams at the time."

Joyce liked nice clothing and had worked at Marshall Fields, her daughter said. 

"She always carried herself with a regal posture and was stylish," she remembered. 

Once they had the shop, Joyce and John spend most of their time manning the store, Johnson said.

"Women would go out during the day, it was a ladies-day-out thing, and shop for antiques," Johnson remembered. 

Joyce herself was known to buy collections of books en masse. 

"There was a lawyer in town who was collecting mysteries to read when he retired, I remember," Johnson said. "He died before he could retire, and my mother bought all of his books."

The Internet has changed how antiques and vintage books are bought and sold, and Joyce was beginning to see that, Johnson said. 

"The Internet is a great place to buy books if you know exactly what you want," she said. "But there are generations where you see and touch and feel things before you buy them."

"Books can be wonderful impulse buys," she added. "You might not know you want something until you see it."

The Web has also changed how people find information – including recipes.

"I don't know if my mother realized this," Johnson said. "But you can go on the Internet and type in 'pork chops' and get any recipe you want, so a lot of people don't even use cookbooks anymore."

But for her mother, books were always treasures, Johnson said. 

"She would put mylar covers on the dust jackets an always took good care of her books and appreciated them."

"She had a lot of respect for the written word," Johnson added.

Reader Comments

2 Comments - Add Your Comment

Comment Policy

Dan Haley from Wednesday Journal Wednesday Journal Employee

Posted: March 27th, 2014 9:24 PM

38 years ago I bought my wife's wedding present -- a beautiful antique bureau -- from Joyce when she had her antique and book shop on the 100 block of South Marion. Our used bookstore, The Booksmith, was right across the street in the old Mar-Lac House. Joyce was a gracious woman though she also had a tart tongue and her barbs were typically dead on.

Cheryl Mu%uFFFDoz from Oak Park  

Posted: March 27th, 2014 8:39 PM

Thank you for this beautiful story! I will be sure to head over to The Looking Glass soon to see their collection.

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