you're reading...
2007-12, 355, 356, Ephemera, Jurgen Wegner

A Sydney War Missal, 1941

Jürgen Wegner

The following article originally appeared in Brandywine bookman’s vade mecum, #10, (2007), p. [1–5].


Typography in Australia has been somewhat of a Cinderella although the advertising profession has in small measure endeavoured to fit it with the baroque slipper of publicity layout … true typography languishes in Australia, notwithstanding widespread intense cultivation elsewhere.

So Ben Fryer in 1936.1 And he goes on to write that:

Russian-printed books are to be seen in any Communist bookshop window, where even many of the cheap paper-covered pamphlets show care in workmanship. Chinese-printed booklets happen along occasionally that are likewise to be noted for the values attached to spacing, inking, and impression.2

Elsewhere Fryer notes that “a nation’s printing marks its stage of civilisation” and disputes the “we’re a young country” excuse by referring to the work then being done in the fifty years younger San Francisco. He suggests a number of remedies to this malaise, the most novel being an acknowledgement by public libraries of the part that printing plays …

Today, as then, there is good printing done by some; but has Australia really changed that much in its appreciation of the art preservative of all the arts?3 Is anything really that much different in the mix seventy years later? There is more than a small sense of déjà-vu when he describes the “wordcurrency of the market place” where anything will do because it is (supposedly) not a commercial proposition to promote careful workmanship. The rule of quality is that of the market—now free market forces— and nothing is so poorly produced for the undiscerning common consumer, that we cannot expect it to be even more poorly done.

So it was with great interest that I received in the mail from Tara McLeod of the Pear Tree Press (cf. Brandywine bookman’s vade mecum #7.1, #9.4) recently a copy of the following prospectus:

Note on printing of a rubricated missal in Australia for the Convent of the Sacred Heart, Rose Bay, Sydney, New South Wales, to be used with Naval, Military, and Air Forces, Australian Imperial Forces, serving abroad. [Sydney: Oak Tree Press?, before 1941]. [2] leaves.

Prospectuses—as is the case with most printed ephemera—are rarely valued in their own right … or really in any way whatsoever! Books are received, processed—stamped, labelled, dust-jackets are removed and tossed, and accompanying material and inserts ditto—and shelved for reading. Books are rarely considered to have any value as things in their own right. This may be the case with old and very expensive books and even private press books; yet how many collectors institutional or private collect the “ordinary” things as evidence of a printer or designer or a press’s work and output? This is why institutions such as the Mainzer MinipressenArchiv4 are so important; institutions or special collections which value the book as a thing for and of itself and what it can tell us quite apart from its monetary value or the words/text on the page.

The missal5 prospectus is an especially interesting example of the value of such unimportant things and not just because it illuminates an almost forgotten example of Australian printing, typography and book production. It also reveals the many relationships and interrelationships which went into its making, as well as showing social and commercial relationships between the Sydney printing and allied trades and society. Quoting at length from the prospectus:

Missals were not obtainable in Australia, except those in constant use in the various churches. Suggestion then was that they should be printed in Australia. Great difficulties were in the way, and as a last resort Lady Sheldon enlisted the services of Carmichael & Co Pty Limited, representatives of Mergenthaler Linotype Limited of London.Messrs. Carmichael & Co. Pty Ltd, at Lady Sheldon’s expense, undertook the work on behalf of the Convent of the Sacred Heart, Rose Bay, Sydney. This firm furnished a Mergenthaler Linotype with all the necessary equipment and placed the whole work under the supervision of Mr Ben Fryer, who designed the format and set the text. The typeface used was Cloister, with some Benedictine Book lines. Making up of type matter into pages was done by Mr H A Viles, trade linotyping house; cutting the pages for colour was also done by this firm …

The picture of the Crucifixion was printed by offset process by Bloxham & Chambers of Sydney, the picture being obtained from a French missal. Printing was by the Oak Tree Press of Anthony Horderns & Sons Limited, Sydney, on Linotype & Machinery Limited English-made ‘Miehle’ and ‘Centurion’ presses. Binding was by Les Baddock Pty Ltd, Sydney, 318 copies in waterproof Fabrikoid to withstand the exigencies of climate and other conditions of war. Nine copies bound in genuine red morocco and twelve copies in Australian hard grain red roan leather were goldblocked with tooling which was specially designed by Miss Pearl Sheldon, who was also responsible for the Convent crest in the titlepage.

The above reads like a virtual who’s who of the Sydney scene at the time, high and low, both trade and social. Lady Sheldon was the wife of Sydney business identity and prominent Catholic Sir Mark Sheldon. He was for a time managing director of Carmichael & Co, paper merchants and machinery dealers. Sir Mark had also been chairman of Anthony Horderns & Sons, whose Oak Tree Press6 is known for popular works such as Miss Futter’s Australian Home Cookery (1934) and the school reader Modern French Short Stories (1940). His sister Mary was a nun at the Convent of the Sacred Heart at which convent his wife Blanche Mary had also been educated.

Carmichael, Viles, Bloxham & Chambers, and Baddock—the latter two still exist to-day—were all major players in the Sydney printing and allied trades. How little primary source material about all these titans of industry has survived the years? It is ironic to think that this one small slip of paper should be called upon to reveal such a poignant story of Sydney printing history, religion, war and typography, high society and hand book-binding in Sydney during World War II where countless shelves of papers and documents have been routinely consigned to the dustbins of history.

A recent pictorial history of Australia in this war, John Moremon’s Wau-Salamaua, 1942–1943, 7 shows an illustration of Chaplain Patrick (Theo) O’Keefe holding Mass alongside a stream at the foot of Mount Tambu, Papua New Guinea, 10 August, 1943. “Those attending could hear artillery, mortars and gunfire from the battle on the heights above.” It was for soldiers such as these at the front lines that the armed services copy of this missal was intended. Anyone interested should look at the book and this illustration.

The missal itself is unfortunately less of a gem. “Fabrikoid” is the kind of binding its name would suggest; and the production is less one of splendour than one of war-time economy, with all sides closely cropped. Apart from the typeface the book is typical of the time with little except its background and circumstances to recommend it. I doubt that Fryer would have regarded it as a high point among his œuvre—more in the nature of good work done for a good cause.

A copy of the missal is held by the National Library of Australia— No. 66 of 350 copies.

Catholic Church. Missal (Pre-Vatican II), Selections.

Excerpta ex missali Romano: ad usum sacerdotum qui exercitus comitanturtempore belli. Australian ed. Rose Bay, NSW: Convent of the Sacred Heart,1941. 40 p. : ill.

After some detective work I was also able to track down a second copy held by the State Library of New South Wales… No. 67. Their copy (seen) also has a copy of this prospectus tipped-in.8 I have been unable to locate any other copies though these no doubt exist in unconverted card catalogues or small theological libraries. Its colophon (p. [42]) reads:

Of this missal / 350 copies have been printed / 75 for use of priests/ serving with the A.I.F. / in camp and field / 275 for distribution / this being / [—] / Linotypographer: B. N. Fryer

There is no mention of any of the specials here as in the prospectus which concludes: “In all, 339 [sic] copies were published”. Were any of these special copies ever produced? Or were they victims of war-time shortages, a lack of sufficient “subscribers”, or in the end regarded as a needless extravagance? Edwards & Shaw, whose interregnum between private press and commercial printers and publishers fell during this period, had some interesting reminiscences about these years, and especially on the logistics of printing and publishing a few years later. Locating any one of the two versions of the twenty-one specials would be a rare find indeed!

Note: Special thanks go to Tara McLeod of the Pear Tree Press for his continuing interest and support.


1 Benjamin Fryer, A note on Australian typography, Art in Australia, 3rd ser., (1936) 65, p. 63.

2 Ibid., p. 65–66. Incidentally, it was interesting to see so many such works now much sought after—yes, collectors have discovered the 20th century book!—at the last Frankfurter Antiquariatsmesse.

3 Ars artium omnium conservatrix from the façade of that other “inventor” of printing’s, Laurent Koster’s, house in Haarlem.

4 The Small Press Archive within the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz.See: http://www.mainz.de/gutenberg/einrich3.htm

5 A missal being a book which contains the service of the Mass for the year.

6 Its logo of the spreading oak tree is that of Anthony Horderns and one which all Sydney-siders of a certain age remember with affection.

7 John Moremon, Wau-Salamaua, 1942–1943, 2nd ed., Canberra, Dept. of Veterans Affairs, 2005, p. 57. First published 1993.

8 Bravo! How many libraries value such printed ephemera today and would go to such trouble for a slip of paper? From small acorns … indeed.



Comments are closed.


%d bloggers like this: