ARTHUR CHICK, noted book historian and collector, has passed away aged 94, in Brisbane. Arthur was for some years a contributor to Biblionews. In addition, he wrote articles for numerous other journals, notably the UK publication Antiquarian Book Monthly Review. He also produced his own journal, The Book Historian, from 1988 to 1991 “to deal with bibliology,” he said, “which it defines as the study of anything connected with books except their texts.” He wrote about hitherto unpublished or little-known information on many aspects of books and printing. As well as gradually acquiring a large and impressive collection of books which illustrated the technical developments in 19th century bookbinding, he ultimately documented the mass of information he had gathered into a unique publication entitled Towards Today’s Book (1997).
Born on 7 April 1914, in Ilford, England, Arthur was schooled in Essex and trained in dentistry at Guy’s Hospital, London; then during World War II he was an army dentist. He became a senior lecturer at Bristol University Dental Hospital before being appointed to the Chair of Dental Prosthetics at the Royal Dental Hospital in Leicester Square, London. He excelled at inventing tiny prostheses for patients. It was this exacting technical aptitude that he also brought to his bibliographical studies. He was in line to become the dentist to the Queen, but ill health forced an early retirement from dentistry. With his wife, Dulcie, he owned and managed a boutique hotel for several years before being appointed caretaker of a newly-acquired National Trust property near Cambridge. Arthur greatly enjoyed these years, which gave him the opportunity to pursue his abiding interest, the history and physical aspects of books. But ill-health forced retirement upon him again, and he and Dulcie spent a year in Washington, DC before finally settling in Brisbane in 1983.
To Brisbane he brought his collection of more than 400 books, examples of 19th century book development and their processes of manufacture. He shared his knowledge generously, giving lectures on “Looking at Books”, as well as conducting seminars for the Queensland Bookbinders Guild. In addition, he formed the Book Buffs, a small group of devotees who gathered for occasional evening meetings.
In January 1988, World Expo year, the Queensland Museum began a year-long exhibition of Arthur’s work called “Books through the Ages”. Their publicity called this
a very special series of monthly displays on the history of books, focusing on the technology of their production. Books, more than any other object, reflect the ideas, history and technological advances of the society which produces them. Displays will cover the development of books from the earliest times and include type and printing methods, woodcuts and engraving, binding decoration, and mass production techniques.
Despite this showcasing of his collection, Arthur felt that librarians, in general, discounted the importance of his unique collection.
1997 saw the publishing of his magnum opus Towards Today’s Book (Farrand Press, UK), a compilation of the 19th century developments that
affected British book production from paper-making through machining to binding, with some of the people who pioneered them, and with any known books that marked their introduction. This was a time when techniques in all aspects of book production underwent enormous changes, changes which made possible the growth of literacy which underpinned the advent of universal education.
His collection was used to supply the numerous illustrations that make it a reference book of great value.
Arthur carried on a lively correspondence with editors and authors whose errors, and omissions, he would kindly point out. (See, for example, the Editor’s note below.) No sooner had his own book arrived from the printers than he inserted a one page list of “Corrections”. He held himself to the same high standards.
Only two years ago his ancient type-writer gave up the ghost, so he promptly bought a computer and decided he would find out how to use it. Without any assistance, he was only partially successful, but he never gave up. He was vital and creative till the end.
I never met Arthur, but was planning to when news of his death reached me. I am indebted to his friends and and family, June McNicol and Ian Simmonds of the Queensland Book Binders Guild and Sue Chick, Arthur’s daughter-in-law, who all kindly supplied details of Arthur’s accomplished life.
(Editor’s note: At one point when we began to include illustrations in Biblionews, we referred to them as “Plate 1”, etc. We soon received a message from Arthur telling us that they were not plates, so we switched to calling them “Illustration 1” etc. and have continued doing so ever since. Arthur Chick published the following items in Biblionews: 305th Issue (March 1995), a review of Paul Goldman’s Victorian illustrated books 1850–1870; 308th Issue (December 1995), in Notes & Queries, “A camouflaged date”; 310th Issue (June 1996), “The rise and fall of the literary annuals”; 317th Issue (March 1998), “A deceptive Cowper, or it is an ill wind …”; and 320th Issue (December 1998), in Notes & Queries, “Postscript to ‘A camouflaged date’ ”.)