The Inaugural Walter and Jean Stone Memorial Talk given at the June meeting of the BCSA in Sydney
THANK YOU for inviting me to give this the first of what I trust will be the forerunner of many Walter and Jean Stone Memorial Talks. It has forced me to reminisce about the history of the Society, which has been a very pleasurable task. Not that I have been a member since its inception but my association with the Society goes back over 50 years. As far as I can ascertain I joined the Society about 1950, as I was elected to its Council in June 1952. It has certainly given me a push to review past issues of Biblionews and check on memories, which in turn has meant much interesting re-reading.
As many members will be aware, my main interest is in bookplates, and I hope to use them in this talk because it was through bookplates that I joined the Society. In the late 1940s I was working for a firm of insurance brokers where, to give me more experience, I worked the “off” lunch hour. That meant I officially started lunch at 12 noon and returned at one to staff the office whilst the remainder of the staff went to lunch. I never felt like lunch at noon so I was at liberty to roam. Also, at that time Jean, my late wife, and I were avid readers. Indeed, if I remember correctly, so were many other people, as there was no television. We read on average five or six books a week whilst travelling to work by bus and train and in the evenings. Jean could top that and read as many as a dozen in the week so we had a constant need to access books. Libraries were one way, but we but wanted to keep the books we liked.
The office where I worked was on the corner of Pitt and Spring Streets and therefore within a half mile radius of most of the secondhand bookshops in Sydney and this allowed me to browse the shops almost to my heart’s content. In that area were the booksellers Jim Tyrrell, Buddy Larson, Stan Nichols, John Shields, Angus & Robertson, the British and Foreign Bookshop, Swains and “old” Mr Jones.
However, I digress. Some of you will know that my introduction to bookplates was via my father-in-law, who wanted me to find out how he could have one commissioned. He was a keen reader and, having worked for A B Triggs, a great collector if ever there was one, had a largish collection of books in his own right. In my lunch hour browsing and buying I would ask the booksellers how one went about having a bookplate commissioned. However, while they had bookplates to sell or give (occasionally) they knew very little about how to have one commissioned, as after the war the use of bookplates was on the wane. One day though “old” Mr Jones, whose shop was at the top of Hunter Street, suggested that I talk to “that man over there” as he might be able to help me in my quest.
The man concerned was Colin Berckelman—of whom more later— and he was to lead me down many new paths of book and bookplate collecting. Colin was at the time Treasurer of the Book Collectors Society and soon suggested that we join it, which we did. In those days, the Society met monthly in one of the rooms in the Mitchell Library on Friday nights and I seem to remember that the room was quite crowded with, I would guess, 20 to 30 people.
The Society was founded in the war year of 1944 and I am always amazed by the confidence of the people at that time that we would prevail and win the war. (In a similar vein are The Saturday Books, the first issue of which was published in 1941 in what must have been a very dark period in England.) There are no records, that I know of, of the early meetings in private hands and the first that I know of are in copies of Biblionews.
Biblionews was first issued in April 1947 and was I feel sure, the brainchild of Walter Stone, who was its first editor and carried on as its editor until his death in 1981. This means that Biblionews has been in publication for over sixty years. I would like to say continuously, but when Wal Stone was overseas for two years it ceased publication awaiting his return. There are not many literary magazines that can boast such a long life, so a big thankyou is due to its editors and writers past and present. The first issue is actually an annual report for the year 1946. The ninth issue contains as its last page and under the Angus & Robertson letterhead a list of secondhand books for sale in their shop. For this privilege Angus & Robertson, processed Biblionews for some years, probably until the late 1950s, as by 1960 Wal Stone was seeking advertisements to help with costs.
Biblionews was duplicated on paper that measured, in the old measurement, ten and a half inches by eight and was called “government letter”. It is anyone’s guess as to why this odd size was used, as quarto was the size used in business and it measured ten by eight inches.
The office bearers for 1947–8 and 1950, the year I think I joined were:
President: H F Chaplin
Vice presidents: S L Lanarch and D J Farrell
Hon Secretary and Treasurer: C Berckelman
Minutes Secretary: W Stone
Committee: G L Trevellyn, E G Boreham,C Grosvenor, G A
King,E Mitchell, E Scholem, andB D Wyke.
Now let us look at what I remember about the executive first, and it may be that their bookplates will give us some insight into their collecting habits.
Harry Chaplin was not a close friend. I remember him as a collector of all the Lindsays. He like many of the other Lindsay collectors at that time had personally had contact with most of that family. He also had a large collection of first editions of Charles Dickens, which he sold to the Fisher Library at Sydney University. He then continued to collect Australian first editions and manuscripts. His collection of Norman Lindsay and Henry Lawson are in the Fisher and are very extensive collections. The one thing I remember clearly is that at a meeting when giving a talk he produced a very rare Lindsay item. He then said that he was not prepared to pass it around at the meeting as, if he himself were in the audience, he would not return it to its owner. This is borne out, I believe, if you look at his bookplate, which to me indicates the penalties for not returning one of his books.
Stan Larnach for some inexplicable reason appears in my memory in a dustcoat: Why, heaven only knows, as although he most certainly would have worn one in his work I am sure he would not have worn one at meetings. In fact, most of us wore either dustcoats or linen coats to stop the sleeves of our suits becoming shiny. Stan’s address is given as “care the Anatomy Department. The University, Sydney”. Please note: “The University, Sydney”, as Stan must have considered there could only be one. Stan’s particular area of expertise was Aboriginal skulls. I always thought Stan was a lay person, but in my research I have found him mentioned as a sometime academic at the University College in Canberra. He published papers principally about Aboriginal skulls, some of which today would not be considered politic. He together with B D Wyke published a book on mould and growth in books and the removal thereof. He was a collector of “bloods” and published a checklist of Fantasia, which I assume was another of his interests.
Of D J Farrell, I am afraid, I have no recollection.
Now, Colin Berckelman is a different kettle of fish. As I mentioned earlier, he was the person pointed out to me as being knowledgeable about bookplates. Colin was the agent for Jackson’s, Locksmiths of Tasmania, who made big brass padlocks, and Colin had the contract to supply the prison departments in New South Wales and the Northern Territory with these padlocks as also to the New South Wales Railways and anyone else that had a need of such items. Colin went into the office in the morning to settle the orders that arrived over night and on most days was free by ten o’clock to pursue the collecting of books and to attend auctions to buy anything that took his fancy. He bought us our first Lindsay etching and jokingly complained that his copy of the etching had cost three guineas, the same as he had paid for his copy of the same etching, but that ours was framed. He had a wicked sense of humour and, when asked about the Book Collectors Society constitution, would tell people that it had been written in Chinese in order that it could not be debated at meetings. (He also told me that the bank manager where the Book Collectors’ funds were deposited was holding a Chinese booklet that Colin had found as being a copy of the Book Collectors constitution, as was required by the bank’s rules!)
Most of Colin’s bookplates are of naked women because, as he said, he liked them that way. He had a large collection of erotica, which in those days was not openly discussed and which I find described as “private press” books in the notice of a meeting at which he gave a talk. He had had trouble with the Australian Customs over some books and, wanting a bookplate designed by Oscar Schramm, he submitted a drawing before importing the plates. He told me that Customs informed him it was decadent but not erotic and he might import the plates.
Another of his bookplates is based on Chick Sales’ booklet The Specialist and the outhouse in it is drawn exactly to the specifications in Sales’ book. Colin had it printed on Medusa toilet paper, although I do not believe he used the plates in his books. (In pre-war days Medusa was the only toilet paper one could buy, the alternative was torn-up newspaper or the kind of tissue-like papers used to wrap apples and pears for sale in those halcyon days and they were very much prized!) Another hobby of Colin’s, having bought a Leica camera cheap at an auction, was to photograph any city building that was being pulled down and replaced. I believe that a lot of Colin’s collections were sold to the Fisher Library after his death 1965. Colin was the first Secretary/Treasurer of the Society and held that position until his death.
Wal Stone, well what one cannot say about Walter? There is no doubt that without Wal the Society would not have survived. At various times President, Secretary and Treasurer, but most of all always editor of Biblionews. Over the years, I got to know Wal well and the title of the book his second wife Jean wrote about him, The Passionate Bibliophile, could not describe him better. Wal, when I knew him first, was working in the office of the General Electric company but later, having had two of his sons by his first wife apprenticed as printers, he set up Wentworth Press in Redfern as a general printer and publisher of small-run books, of which there were over 100, I believe. Indeed, many authors might not have seen their works in print if it had not been for Wal. This was certainly not his first venture as a printer, as The Flower Bin, which was published as a souvenir of the annual dinner of the Society in 1955, will show.
My complete set of Biblionews was Wal’s, which I purchased from Antique Books along with other items such as the Stan Larnach book mentioned above. Unfortunately, I lent the first volume of my bound set of Biblionews to Eric Russell who was going to write a history of the Society, but he has since died and the volume was never returned to me. Fortunately, I had photocopied the issues so I do still have a full set. (Maybe Harry Chaplin was right after all!) Anyone who has seen Wal’s writings in Biblionews will know the depth of knowledge he had about Australiana in all of its forms. After his death, I was ask to look at some of his papers that were contained in a dozen or so four-drawer steel filing cabinets, and the amount and breadth of his holdings was truly enormous. There is an article by Wal from Biblionews’s two hundredth issue and it tells the beginnings of Biblionews better than I possibly could. It is being republished along with this talk.
Wal had a bookplate, which appears in the books of his that I have, but I am not sure that he used it extensively. His books when sold sometimes had them inserted loose in the books. It is as Australian as Wal and shows his interest in Lawson. Wal was awarded the Order of Australia Medal for his contribution to Australian literature.
Of the other committee members, the only one I remember having contact with was George Boreham. By the time I knew George he had retired and my contact was by telephone or writing. George, as I knew him, was a bookplate collector—he had his own—and was very generous in helping me with duplicate bookplates. Delving into my correspondence with George I found a catalogue he had prepared to sell his books privately. He appears to have been an eclectic collector, as I am, but he had more fine press books.
Another member of happy memory was James Meagher a barrister of some repute and the second president of the society. James was the original Irishman. We were both members of Strathfield Golf Club and played together sometimes. His golf was Irish in that his feet pointed one way, his body another and the ball went in an entirely different direction. At one of the general meetings, he was asked to be Returning Officer for the election of officers. James refused, but said he would accept the position if it were that of Elector as there was only one nomination for the major offices and the Committee like, Parkinson’s Law, expanded to the number of people willing to stand!
“Old” Mr Jones who introduced me to Colin was the only bookseller I remember who attended meetings. He was reasonably old and walked with a stick. At the meetings, he was always supported by a girl friend who was most solicitous and not quite his age.
Another member whose name I recall but cannot say a great deal about is David Cohen, who was a collector of science fiction.
On Saturday mornings any of the members of the Society that happened to be in town for any reason, but mainly to seek books, would rendezvous at Repin’s Coffee Inn at midday to chat and discuss their finds. Repins was chosen, as Tim Hotimsky, who collected books with an Australian-Russian connection, was a member of the Society and secretary of Repins. Amember would often also tell of having found an item that might interest another member and would have discreetly moved it in the bookshop to a position where the other member would be able to find it, but probably not the bookseller should anyone else seek it.
In conclusion, I would like once again to thank the Society for the privilege of being able to give this the first Walter and Jean Stone Memorial Talk.