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2010-06, 365, 366, Brian Taylor, Janet Robinson, Michael Hough, Neil A Radford, Notes and Queries


History of the Book Collectors’ Society of Australia

At the behest of the BCSA committee, I am compiling a long overdue history of the BCSA, which was formed in 1944. The history was first foreshadowed by Eric Russell, who planned to publish it in 1994 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Society. Unfortunately, he fell ill and died before completing the project. I have received his notes (some in shorthand, which I cannot read) and three roughly drafted chapters.

I would welcome contact with members who supplied information to Eric, or who have knowledge of, or documents about the early history of the BCSA, in particular of the book men who were its chief promoters: Walter Stone, Stanley Lanarch, Fred Malcolm, George Boreham, Harry Chaplin and (distantly?) John Ferguson. The focus will be on the original Sydney branch, but I will include chapters on the Victorian and South Australian branches. Please contact Michael Hough PO Box 176, Annandale NSW 2038 or email <mhough@comcen.com.au>.

Michael Hough

“Rare book dealers to become rarer still”

This was the title of an article by Rosemary Sorensen in

The Weekend Australian of 22-23 May 2010, p. 9, about Rick Gekoski, “an American [rare book dealer] who has a tiny bookshop in London”. He was in Sydney for the Writers Festival. She attributes to him the statements that “there are already too many books” and “if half of them die, that‘s good”, which together support his opinion that “those who love books as beautiful objects of cultural history should not be afraid of e-books but embrace the impending change to digital publishing as a good thing.”

Also at that festival event was “Australia‘s pre-eminent rare book dealer, Nicholas Pounder” (formerly of Glebe and Double Bay in Sydney), who agreed with him that the e-reader was an “unpleasant way to read a book, but ‘very practical’ for temporarily storing books you did not want to keep”. Gekoski thought it would become ever more difficult for big publishing enterprises to go on publishing quality books for niche readerships, but that job could be taken over by small independent presses, which were already starting up. James Joyce had had to rely on a small press to publish his first book in 1907 and had to wait a further 17 years before he could find a mainstream press to publish any of his books. Although they were “just books”, they now sold for thousands and thousands of dollars.

Gekoski came out in conclusion with some further thoughts, namely that “[c]ollectors of first editions of important books tended to be middle-aged men” and, one that might send a shiver down the collective BCSA spine, his fear “that collectors would disappear”. Finally, there was his concern that “20-year-olds, who are used to e-books and reading on iPhones do not have a communal reading life”.

Note: Colin Steele‘s book review of Outside of a dog by Gekoski is on page 43.

Letter from Past President Janet Robinson

(Antonia Gilbert’s talk Ten years with Angus & Robertson Ltd in book publishing to the Sydney BCSA meeting on 1 June 2008 was reproduced in the December 2008 issue of Biblionews (360th issue). Janet Robinson was President of BCSA in 2005-06)

I was thrilled to receive the December 2008 issue of Biblionews. You can‘t imagine how delighted I was to read the article by Antonia Gilbert. Our time at Angus & Robertson must have coincided, though I am puzzled that I cannot remember her. I used to meet up with other staff in the upstairs lunch room.

I spent six years with A&R in the Publishing Department – fortunately George Mackaness was a Director of Macquarie Secretarial College, where I trained, and he steered me to A&R when I said I wanted to get into publishing.

My time overseas was from 1957 till 1960 and, when I returned, the old A&R was no more. It had been taken over and was no longer the family firm it had been. The nearest I could get back into the publishing world was with Vogue magazine, which wasn‘t the same at all. I married in 1963 and, apart from a short time with the Library of Australian History at North Sydney, publishers of early musters and the ABGR project – and then owners of the Heritage Bookshop in The Rocks – I have not been involved in the publishing world since. But books and their publishers have always remained my great love.

Janet Robinson

Letter to Brian Taylor on Tramwayana

I’m not really interested in ‘tramwayana’ (or is it ‘tramiana’ as in Australiana? Perhaps too close to ‘tramania’!) but I thought your article was interesting because I, too, feel nostalgic about Sydney’s trams, though only as a passenger. A few comments which might be of interest:

I was born in Epping, with only buses and trains, but when I was 12 we moved to Longueville, about a mile from the Lane Cove tram terminus. I attended North Sydney Boys High for five years, taking the bus to the tram terminus then the tram to Crows Nest and either walking down Falcon Street or taking another tram down to the school (and the reverse in the afternoons). I liked the trams – mostly toastrack I think – and marvelled at how the conductors swung along the footboard to collect the fares. I felt sorry for them in wet weather.

Parenthetically, I was interested to learn that you were a practice teacher at NSBHS in 1958. I was in 5th Year in 1958, studying for the Leaving Certificate. I don‘t remember you as a practice teacher there, but I expect you were teaching German, which I didn‘t do for the LC.

In the summer we went to Spit Baths on Wednesday afternoons for swimming. The school hired special trams to take us there and back (‘toastrack’ again mostly). We went along Military Road to somewhere past Balmoral and just before the road started down the hill to the Spit we turned off to the right and went along a tram-only right of way curving down through the bush and rocks and emerged at the park next to the baths. It went very fast downhill. Exciting.

In recent years I‘ve been a volunteer at Leichhardt Public Library, indexing a 19th century local paper for them, the Balmain Observer (1884-1907). There‘s lots of stuff in it about tram services in the area, including the excitement of the changeover to electricity, and the problems of extending the line to East Balmain because of the steep hills involved. I now live two blocks from the Darling Street wharf, and was delighted to see two photos in your article of trams in that part of Darling Street. Unfortunately by the time I moved to Balmain (1973) the trams were long gone. I‘ve never understood why tram destination rolls had those coloured symbols. Thank you for clearing that up for me. Quite ingenious.

I believe your family story about O‘Connor Reserve in Rozelle is correct. When I finished indexing the Balmain Observer for Leichhardt Library they asked me to tackle a number of scrap-books of news cuttings from the 1950s and 1960s assembled by a local resident. I recall that one of the cuttings was about the official opening of O’Connor Reserve and I’m sure it said that it had previously been a tram right-of-way from Victoria Road to Lilyfield Road and thence across to Leichhardt. Mr O’Connor, who lived adjacent to the park, was present and was quoted as say ing something to the effect that he was so pleased to have a park there because no longer would the trams be rattling past his back fence.

I wonder why Sydney got rid of its trams, when other cities here and overseas have made such a success of them as a fast and efficient public transport system?

Neil Radford

Another Künzler book with an inscription

In my article “By their books ye may (get to) know them (2): Liesel Künzler” in the 359th (September 2008) Issue of Biblionews, I said of her volumes now in my possession that “her books have been moved around and got somewhat mixed up with my other books, but there is one feature that allows me to recognise them as hers, namely they contain near the front a rubber stamp with Arabic text” (p. 109). Well, some eighteen months after that article appeared, thanks to that stamp, on a bookshelf in a more remote room of my house, I chanced upon another of her books containing the stamp, but also a significant dedicatory inscription. The book is another one by the Austrian authoress Vicki Baum (see pp. 117 ff. of my article)—again not the German original, but an English translation—Hotel Berlin ’43 (Garden City N.Y.: Doubleday, Doran & Company, 1944), thus from the same American publishers in the same year.

The inscription on the front free endpaper goes:

To Liesl‘s first birthday –/ in her life which belongs/ now completely to her!/ Many happy returns of/ these Liesl – you deserve them !!/ Erwin/ 21 february 1945 (The original text had ” . . . deserve it”, but that pronoun is overwritten with “them”, obviously to fit in with “these”.)

This is the second birthday inscription we have, but whereas Rob‘s inscription (p. 117) was “for 20-2-44”, this one is dated on the 21st February 1945 (using a German form of the ordinal number: “21”), so a year and a day later. Which is the correct birthday date? Rob‘s preposition “for” makes it pretty certain that her birthday was the 20th. The name Erwin is a German name, so who was this man? (Certainly not Feldmarschall Erwin Rommel, and not only because by this date he had, on Hitler‘s compelling suggestion, committed “self-murder” (Selbstmord) or chosen “the free death” (den Freitod), as German variously expresses it.) This is the only inscription we have with his name in it, so we can say no more than that he was some fellow speaker of German she knew, which is why his text reads a little oddly to English speakers.

Why did Erwin, like the Margot and Fritz who wrote in English their dedication of a German book for “Christmas 1951” (p.120), write his dedication in English? Perhaps merely because the book was in English. Or perhaps because he was one who had suffered under or through the Nazis and, as many Jews did, turned his back on the language of his persecutors once he had learned another one. The dedication itself seems to see Liesl‘s life during the period of the war and her exile as one that was in some way not free.

While the war in Europe was not yet over—Hitler was still alive till the end of April 1945 and his Third Reich for just over a week longer—its end was by February clearly in sight. Thus Liesl may have felt free to leave Egypt and set off on a journey that ended in Australia. But that her life belonged in early 1945 “now completely to her” may have been due to some quite other circumstance of which, unless I chance upon yet another relevant inscription, we can have no knowledge.

Brian Taylor



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