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2000-09, 327, Book Reviews, Bookplates, Mark Ferson

Book Review

Australian personal bookplates.  By Andrew Peake. Dulwich, SA: Tudor Australia Press, 2000, 216 pp. ISBN 0 9589177 79 (Standard edition) and 0 9589177 95 (De Luxe edition)

Obtainable from: Andrew Peake, 14 Tudor St, Dulwich SA 5065. Standard edition, $125 plus GST, De Luxe edition, $200 plus GST (postage additional)

The author, who has a long interest in heraldry and genealogy, has spent a number of years tracking down Australian personal (as opposed to institutional or commercial) bookplates in public and private collections, and with some useful additional background and historical information, this bookplate register is the result.

The book opens with a historical overview of bookplates in Australia including a brief analysis of the rise and fall of bookplate societies: the Australian Ex Libris Society which lasted from 1923 to 1939, and its short-lived spin-offs, the NSW Bookplate Club (1932-33) and Australian Bookplate Club (Melbourne-based, 1942-44). This is followed by biographies of 43 professional and amateur bookplate artists, predominantly those working in the inter-War heyday of bookplates in Australia and a mere handful of contemporary designers. A listing of Australian institutional book-plate collections by state is found next, and will be useful for those of us interested in bookplate research. The author has brought up to date the late John Fletcher’s compilation in his

The Jane Wind-eyer Bookplate Collection in the University of Sydney Library: A catalogue (No. 30 in the series Studies in Australian Bibliography, BCSA, 1989). The preliminaries are rounded off by a note about how the register of bookplates should be used.

The register itself is a printout from the author’s database of 5746 bookplates arranged alphabetically by owner, interspersed with pages of clear black and white illustrations of selected book-plates. The De Luxe edition (and the small Author‟s Special edition, which I have not seen) contains additional unnumbered pages scattered throughout the paginated list with tipped-in, original bookplates. The information fields for each bookplate included in the register are owner’s name, platename (text as it appears on the bookplate), description (pictorial elements and any motto), artist, form (medium of production), reference (to the plate in other works), year, size and register number. In many cases, form, artist and year are unknown.

At the end of the work, two pages are devoted to a bibliography of Australian and overseas bookplate literature. These comprise those works which have been referred to in the text, and the author does not hold this out to be a comprehensive bibliography of the subject. It is followed by the colophon and an extremely useful alphabetical index of artists, which ascribes bookplates by register number to each designer.

The author has attempted to emulate, or resurrect, the tradition of Percy Neville Barnett’s limited edition books on Australian bookplates, which gained worldwide acclaim for both their contents and their beauty (see J.R. Dixson, Biblionews and Australian Notes & Queries Sept 1986, no. 271, pp.72-6). In physical terms, both editions are commercially and carefully printed on archival paper, and my De Luxe edition has a pleasant gold-stamped, quarter leather binding with 31 tipped-in plates. It may be superfluous to add that the physical qualities of Australian personal bookplates fall well short of Barnett’s master works, and I suspect such a product would be well beyond the resources of the author and probably the pocket of any would-be buyer, whilst I can be reasonably certain that no Australian fine press would be both willing and able to take on such a job! In respect of the contents, the author has made available a comprehensive listing of Australian bookplates — which can never, of course, be complete due to the sheer impossibility of the task of locating all such items. However, many readers will find interest either in the owners or in those artists active in the inter-War period who may have designed a plate as a gift or who sought commissions to supplement their income. Additional spice is provided by the relatively small number of recent designs, suggesting there really still are some people passionate enough about bookplates, or their own books, to commission one or more from modern graphic artists. An enormous range of media are now available for this type of work and, amongst others, some colour bookplates using computer-aided-design are tipped into the De Luxe edition.

In summary, as a bookplate enthusiast I welcome this publication and commend it to those with similar interests, or to those who take vicarious delight in the foibles of other book collectors. My only suggestion to the author would be to have included a chronological listing of bookplates, to chart our fascination with bookplates over the past century or so, as this would have been valuable to a student of the history of bookplates. However, as the register exists in electronic form, I imagine all I need to do is write to Mr Peake and ask for the register sorted by year (provided in perhaps 10% of cases) and maybe he will send it to me.

Mark J. Ferson

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