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2006-12, 352, Ephemera, Michael Aitken, Postcards

The Leporello and Lorne: A Personal Story

Michael Aitken

FOR THE PAST FORTY YEARS I have been a modest, though some times passionate collector of early Australian books and ephemera. As early as the mid-1960s I was attracted to historical pictorial items. The printed work of the early colonial artists was only sometimes within my reach but I soon became aware of the wealth and accessibility of the more humble material of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Souvenir booklets and postcards of this period became special interests for me.

One day in a secondhand bookshop I picked up a small booklet titled Album of Melbourne Views. The cover appealed for its rich gilt decoration. Inside was a folding “concertina” strip of views of the ‘Marvellous Melbourne’ of the 1880s. The illustrations were sepia prints and glazed to look like photographs but I noticed that our Parliament House was shown to have a dome, and that the street traffic looked more European than Australian. It did not trouble me that these illustrations were somewhat less than accurate. The bookseller charged me about $5. I soon found that there was a wide variety of similar albums for Melbourne and the other capital cities of Australia. On a visit to Sydney when Berkelouw’s was still in King Street, I recall being delighted to buy several albums, in a similar format, of Queensland provincial towns like Warwick, Ipswich and Rockhampton. I have rarely seen examples of these same items since. I realised that while a few of these albums were fairly common, other were indeed scarce. Anyway I became hooked on my new quest, and decided to put together a representative Australian collection.

The albums are characterised simply by coloured boards with ornamented gilt titling and a folding strip of illustrations—actually lithographs processed to resemble photographs. Before the end of the 19th century technology was not up to the satisfactory printing of photographs but there was nevertheless a growing tourist demand for this kind of album. Usually there are between 12 and 24 pages of views, often including a panorama stretching over several pages. Mostly there is no text although frequently a local importer or bookseller placed an interesting advertising sticker inside the back cover. Sometimes the covers clearly indicate German manufacture and I believe all these albums were sourced from Germany. Generally the importers had German names and presumably trade connections with their country of origin. Handwritten inscriptions and occasionally printed details place all the albums in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. (There is no sign of a motor vehicle in any street view in my albums.) The most common dimensions are around 14cm by 19cm but there is nevertheless a wide variation. One giant example in my collection had been published for the Melbourne International Exhibition of 1888 and this measures 24cm by 16cm. At the other end of the scale there is a tiny album (8cm by 5cm) which significantly contains the extra title Miniature Leporello-Album of Melbourne. I had seen this name Leporello on a couple of other albums and I decided to adopt the term. However it has never been useful to walk into an antiquarian bookshop or library and ask to see the range of leporellos.

Leporello#1

 

Over the years I was able to slowly add to my collection from booksellers in Australia and overseas. These albums were not uncommonly sent to England and elsewhere as mementoes of the colonies. Many I have seen but once or twice only, and that would include researching in our major institutional libraries. Naturally some are keenly sought by collectors of local history.

Bendigo offers two distinct forms, each designated Sandhurst as that city was known in this period. For each of Geelong and Ballarat there are several different albums, sometimes with some repetition of images. The Premier Album of Ballarat Views is altogether different from The Excelsior Album of Ballarat Views. The first has clearly been sponsored by the book and stationery importer H J Summerscales of Sturt Street with a fine locally printed lithographic view of their premises pasted inside the back cover. The latter actually incorporates an equally striking view of the establishment of the rival firm of S L Birtchnell as one of the illustrations on the German-printed folding strip. Summerscales’ sticker indicates that the images are from photographs by the Ballarat photographer, J Chuck. Both these albums include the same view of Bridge Street but with different arrangements of the street traffic. A close comparison with the original photograph by Chuck shows that both images have been treated with a considerable degree of artistic licence.

Leporello#2

 

Most of the leporello-albums show topographical views of streets, buildings and scenery. Occasionally a significant event is featured such as the departure and return of the Soudan Expedition (Sydney,1885) or the aforementioned International Exhibition in Melbourne in 1888. A quite different and highly sought-after item is the Album of the Kings & Queens of Victoria. This shows twelve portraits of the Aboriginal ‘royalty’ of Victoria, so deemed by Europeans. Some are wearing the brass plates awarded them and stand in possum-skin coats with their weapons. These illustrations are known to derive from real photographs by Frederick Kruger that had been presented in a very rare album about 1870.

Gradually my collection has built up. It would be excessive to collect every small variety. The same albums can appear in covers of different colour or with different arrangements of the same plates. I now have examples of nearly 100 essentially different albums representing about thirty Australian cities, towns and themes. Some of the provincial towns have naturally been a little more elusive. Eventually I have found good examples of Newcastle, Launceston and Bundaberg. For years I was aware of the Album of Bathurst Views from incomplete copies in the National Library of Australia and the State Library of New South Wales. On one driving trip I made a very long detour to Bathurst in the hope of turning up a copy in a secondhand bookshop. (My wife was uncomplaining.) Nothing eventuated at the time but recently I was able to purchase an excellent complete copy from Time Booksellers in Frankston.

My Bathurst Album appeared in the same week that I made my most precious find. In 2004 I wrote an article on nineteenth century guidebooks of Victoria [1]. One item that I described was the Beauties of Lorne [2] which contains two lively accounts of tourist visits to Lorne about 1879, one by James Hingston, and the other by William Little. There are two copies of this work in the State Library of Victoria. Both are in the characteristic red German boards with gilt titling on the front, and a gilt embossed.

Leporello#3

 

 

Leporello#4

 

impression of the Grand Pacific Hotel on the back. The 44 pages of text were printed by F W Niven of Ballarat. In one copy there is a folding strip of just five views of Lorne; in the other there are no views at all. Similarly, the copy of this album in the National Library of Australia is also missing the views. Although the date, January 1879, appears at the end of the text, the album undoubtedly was produced a few years later. Some of the images seem to have been made from photographs and others from woodcuts which may have appeared in periodicals at the time. We still need information to determine the origins of the views.

I do have a sentimental attraction to the seaside town of Lorne. At the end of 1962 I went there for a holiday with my brother. This was my first taste of camping and bush-walking—pursuits I have greatly enjoyed ever since. More importantly it was also on that holiday that I met Rosemary who soon became my wife. I believe we had our first kiss one hot summer night on Teddy’s Lookout. In any event I later put the Beauties of Lorne at the top of my list of desiderata.

Then one Sunday in July 2005 my dream come true. I was attending a postcard fair, and there in the midst of the stock of one of my favourite dealers I caught a glimpse of this treasure. I could hardly believe my eyes at such serendipity. It was even better when I realised that this album had 12 views of Lorne, undoubtedly complete and possibly unique. Included among the views are the three pioneer hotels—the Grand Pacific, the Lorne Hotel and Mountjoy’s, as well as the inevitable waterfalls and Teddy’s Lookout. At this time Lorne had a resident population of perhaps 150 people [3]. There was no Great Ocean Road and holiday-makers had to make the train trip to Winchelsea or Birregurra, and then the long and difficult Cobb & Co coach ride over the Otways. It is quite amazing that such a small tourist resort warranted its own leporello-album.

But then there was a further significant development. Because of shared interests I usually get together with a friend, Jim Davidson, for a midmorning coffee at these fairs. I excitedly showed off my newly-purchased leporello and remarked that for Jim, this term would have a different meaning. Jim had at one time been the opera critic for The Age, and immediately recalled the name of Don Giovanni’s servant. By coincidence, he had attended a performance of this opera on the previous night. We decided that the word was probably not related in the two contexts but Jim did urge me to see this excellent production, so I took myself off to the Athenaeum Theatre on the same Sunday afternoon. Early in the first act, Leporello sings his catalogue aria and takes from his bag a book from which he pulls a long folding paper strip – the list of Don Giovanni’s romantic conquests. The connection was immediately obvious. Leporello turns out to be a German word, probably from Italian, meaning ‘a fan of folded paper’. At this stage I do not know whether Mozart (or his librettist) named the character after the word or vice-versa.

Leporello-albums were produced for towns and places in countries all over the world. They were probably always supplied in a cloth cover but these were inevitably soon discarded. The cost was often about two shillings (twenty cents) which was about the same as for a single real photograph. Although these albums appear elaborate the quality was actually rather poor and consequently survival in good condition is unusual. By the end of the nineteenth century picture postcards had come into fashion as preferred souvenirs and this type of leporello-album quickly became obsolete. Forming a collection has been quite a challenge especially to find the true rarities like the Beauties of Lorne.

Leporello#5

 

Notes.

1  Michael Aitken, ‘In and About the Colony: Early Tourist Guides of Victoria.’ The La Trobe Journal  No.74, 2004. (When this article was written, it was not realised that seven plates were missing from the only illustrated Beauties of Lorne then known to me.)

2 J.A. Ferguson, Bibliography of Australia  Vol 4. See 10437g. Only one copy of Beauties of Lorne was known to Ferguson and that is one in the State Library of Victoria described with ‘plates missing’. Ferguson erroneously took the date, January 1879, at the end of Little’s text to indicate the date of publication.  However examination of the contents shows that the album would have been published nearer 1890. See also 11661  Lorne: a Seaside Sketch by W.L. (1879). This is an earlier and separately published text by William Little whose account was subsequently updated in Beauties of Lorne. (Early in 2005, John Chapman very kindly gave me a copy of this rare first guide – a gift that only further encouraged my interest in the history of Lorne tourism).

3 J G Bartholomew, The Royal Atlas and Gazetteer of Australia, 1890,p.29. Lorne is simply described as a watering place of Victoria with a population of 149.

 

Leporello#6

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Discussion

2 thoughts on “The Leporello and Lorne: A Personal Story

  1. Michael Aitken,I am a member of the Lorne Historical society. Do you know it and have you ever visited it and seen their extensive collection of photographs of Lorne and district?

    Posted by ann elliot | 20/08/2010, 6:19 am
  2. A great article Michael, i found it most interesting, thank you

    Posted by Hazel Johnson | 28/04/2011, 10:51 pm

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