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2007-12, 355, 356, Bookplates, Jewish, Mark Ferson

Coleman Hyman and Australia’s First Bookplate Exhibit

Coleman Hyman and Australia’s First

Bookplate Exhibit

Mark J Ferson

THE PICTORIAL BOOKPLATE MOVEMENT, and interest in book plates as an artform rather than as a mark of social standing, began in Australia in the fin de siècle, the last decade of the 19th century. John Lane Mullins, a well-connected Sydney solicitor and art patron, was responsible for its inception through his commissioning of emerging Australian artists to design bookplates for his own use and for members of his family. The first of these was a pen-and-ink design by Percy F S Spence from 1892 incorporating a view of Lane Mullins’ library but including a discreetly placed family coat of arms—an acknowledgement of both the owner’s position in society and the weight of heraldic tradition behind the bookplate.1

Toward the end of the decade, spurred on by plentiful examples of bookplates in pre-Raphaelite and art nouveau styles reproduced in the pages of the highly influential London Studio magazine, a group of artists including Norman Lindsay, Tom Roberts, Thea Proctor, Sydney Long and D H Souter began experimenting with bookplates as a form of design exercise. Although Roberts, Long and Proctor dashed off a couple of studies and moved on, Norman Lindsay and D H Souter each developed a substantial series of bookplate designs as part of a much broader and probably more memorable oeuvre.2

Despite this sudden flurry of production, in the absence of organised bookplate activity in this country it is difficult to identify Australian bookplate collectors from this period. From fragmentary documentation and careful research, in addition to Lane Mullins himself we know of two— David Scott Mitchell (1836-1907) and William Tompson Bednall (1838– 1915). Mitchell had a large collection, which he began by persuading a juvenile James Tyrrell to part with his first gathering of bookplates.3 Bednall, whose name shall occur again later in this story, was a printer and subeditor with the Adelaide Register. 4 He joined the London-based Ex Libris Society in 1895 and eventually left his collection numbering some 2184 examples to the State Library of South Australia. Three bookplates are recorded for Bednall, all of them designed in London by Tebay, the earliest dated 1897.5

Into this atmosphere of gradually strengthening interest in bookplate collecting, the Library Association of Australasia invited individuals and organisations to contribute books and related material to the Loan Exhibition which was to accompany its first meeting, to be held in Sydney during the first week of October, 1898 (see illustration). Of the 620 items in the exhibition, the lion’s share of 358 items was shown by the Public Library of New South Wales; other institutional lenders were the Public Library of Victoria, Universities of Melbourne and Sydney, the NSW Government Printer, Sydney Mechanics’ School of Arts and National Art Gallery of NSW. Apart from library supply companies, the majority of contributors were private individuals such as Professors M W McCallum and E E Miller, D S Mitchell, Rose Scott and Coleman P Hyman. Coleman Hyman’s loan (items 129-142) comprised a collection of Australian currency, autographs of British and Australian notables, a number of items of Jewish historical interest, early issues of the Sydney Gazette, and at No 140 a display of ‘Book-plates’.6




Guide to the Loan Exhibition, Library Association of Australasia, 1898


Unfortunately there is no record of the composition of the bookplate display—the earliest record that I have been able to find of any Australian bookplate exhibit or exhibition – but there is some information on the lender. Hyman was born in Chatham, Kent in 1862, where he later became honorary secretary of the local synagogue. He arrived in Australia in 1885 and immediately became active in historical research and communal affairs. The Government Printer published his An account of the coin, coinages and currencies of Australasia for the Chicago Exposition of 1893. Examples of his work on Australian Jewry are an article on ‘The progress of Jews in Australia’, in the Jewish Herald issues of 21 September and 5 October 1894, whilst on 15 May 1911 he addressed the Jewish Historical Society of England on ‘The development of Australian Jewry’. By the time of his return to England in 1910 or 1912, he had held significant positions in a range of Sydney-based Jewish and secular organisations—the Great Synagogue, Sydey Jewish Aid Society, Civil Ambulance and Transport Brigade, Literary and Debating Societies’ Union and the British Empire League, among others. He died on 29 December 1929.7

His obituarist records that ‘Long before the Ex-Libris Society was formed, he was a keen collector of book plates and designed the prize plate for the Jewish Education Board.’8 This bookplate, in the guise of a prize plate from 1909, the first year of its use, is reproduced in New South Wales Board of Jewish Education: history 1909–1979, 9 and Percy Marks refers to an example of this bookplate in his own collection.10 His obituarist continues:

He was a keen collector of curios, china, coins, medals, historical documents, etc, and his rooms were like a museum containing as they did valuable mementoes of all kinds. These he took to England when he left Australia some years ago, and it is a pity that his valuable collection could not have been retained for the local institutions, as he had many original records of which there were no duplicates.

The thin file on Hyman held by the Australian Jewish Historical Society contains letters between Sydney and London which signify attempts over a span of years in the 1950s and 1960s to locate what was considered an important collection of documents and artefacts. As far as is known, these attempts have come to nothing.

Knowing what we do about Hyman, we could speculate that his display ‘140. Book-plates’ comprised armorial bookplates of prominent Jews and other notable citizens of both England and his temporary home in Australia, and possibly a smattering of the new-fangled pictorials being promoted by John Lane Mullins. Oddly, there is no evidence from Australian or English records that Hyman ever owned a personal bookplate.11

Perhaps of greater significance for the early twentieth century passion for bookplate collecting, is the link we might draw between Hyman’s exhibit and Jane Windeyer’s amassing of 2500 bookplates deposited half a century later in the University of Sydney’s rare book collection, and so colourfully contextualised by the late John Fletcher.12 The connection, if it existed, might be Jane’s sister Margaret Windeyer, who attended the Melbourne meeting of the Library Association of Australasia (and whose several essays are reprinted in the Conference proceedings), travelled to the United States to study librarianship, and on her return in 1901 presented Jane with an album of library bookplates, which became the nucleus of Jane’s collection.13

Hyman’s contribution of a display of bookplates at the 1898 meeting of the Library Association of Australasia was emulated at the following meeting, held in Adelaide from 9-12 October 1900.14 On this occasion the aforementioned W T Bednall loaned:

692a. Series of book-plates, arranged on sheets in the following order, viz.—Early book plates, 1690-1790; Plates of Public Libraries; University and ecclesiastical; Colonial Governors and old and prominent colonists; Ladies [sic] plates; The book plate in its simpler form [could ‘simpler’ in fact mean typographic?]; Recent plates; Plates of well-known authors; Book pile plates.

Item 683 was a collection of South Australian bookplates on loan from a so far unidentified Mr G G Shaw. The only G G Shaw known (by me) to have been associated with bookplates was the etcher and art dealer (among other things) Gerard Gayfield Shaw, born in Adelaide in 1885 and very probably too young to have had a bookplate collection in 1900. However, his father whose initials were also G G, for George Gerard, was said by art historian William Moore to have been ‘a keen collector of Australiana’.15

Displays at subsequent meetings of the Association did not feature bookplates. Over a decade was to pass before the competition organised as a section of the 1907 Exhibition of Women’s Work, and the bookplate exhibitions mounted at the University of Sydney and the National Art Gallery of New South Wales in association with P Neville Barnett, but these are another story.


I wish to thank Helen Bersten of the Australian Jewish Historical Society and Rachelle Lever of the NSW Board of Jewish Education for their assistance; the late Dr Ben Haneman for introducing me to Yehuda Feher and Mr Feher for sending me information pertaining to Percy J Marks.


1 Mark Ferson, ‘John Lane Mullins, father of the Australian bookplate movement’, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, vol. 89, pt 1, June 2003, pp. 38-52.

2 Mark J Ferson, ‘Australian bookplates of the 1890s: art nouveau experiments by Australian artists’, World of Antiques and Art, 2007, in press.

3 James R Tyrrell, Old books, Old friends, Old Sydney, Sydney, Angus & Robertson, 1987, p. 55.

4 This information was provided by Andrew Peake, Adelaide, personal communication, 31 Mar. 2002.

5 Andrew Peake, Australian personal bookplates, Adelaide, Tudor Australia Press, 2000, p. 42.

6 Library Association of Australasia. Conference proceedings, 1898. (Occasional Papers in Librarianship No. 8). Adelaide, Libraries Board of South Australia, 1969.

7 Compiled from a variety of sources including Malcolm J Turnbull, ‘Two pioneers of Australian Jewish historiography: Alfred Newton Super and Hirsch Munz’, Australian Jewish Historical Society Journal, Vol. 13, No. 3, 1996, pp. 487-99, and papers in the Australian Jewish Historical Society file on Coleman P Hyman.

8 ‘Mr Coleman P Hyman’, Australian Jewish Chronicle, 27 Feb. 1930 , p.11.

9 Maurice H Kellerman, New South Wales Board of Jewish Education: history 1909—1979, Sydney, The Board, 1979, p. 225C.

10 Percy J Marks, ‘Australian Jewish bookplates’, Jewish Herald, 16 Aug. 1912, page unknown.

11 Peake, op cit, records no bookplate for Hyman; Anthony Pincott, Bookplate Society (UK), personal communication, 26 July 2004.

12 John Fletcher, The Jane Windeyer bookplate collection in the University of Sydney Library: a catalogue. Sydney, Book Collectors’ Society of Australia, 1990 (Studies in Australian Bibliography, No. 30).

13 Ibid, p. ix.

14 Transactions and proceedings of the Library Association of Australasia at its second general meeting, held at Adelaide, October 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th, 1900, Government Printer, Adelaide, 1901, p. 85.

15 William Moore, The story of Australian art, Sydney, Angus & Robertson, 1934 Vol. 2, p. 219.



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