Traditionally the last Friday in January is “Members’ Night” for the Victorian Branch of the Book Collectors Society. We gather in the supper room on the ground floor of the Royal Society building where our meetings are held; the more formal meetings usually take place in the lecture hall on the first floor.
Each member brings a book to show and to talk about. The first person to speak at our 2004 meeting was John Chapman. He was about to submit his collection to auction by Peter Arnold and so brought in an auction catalogue from an earlier dispersal sale, that of William Henry Harris whose books went through the rooms in Sydney in 1935. John felt this catalogue was of interest partly because it gives details of what must have been an impressive collection but also because it is a sale almost forgotten and not included in the standard reference works on Australian book collecting.
Some of the highlights were Threlkeld’s Aboriginal grammar; Leichhardt’s Lectures (1846); Tompson’s, Wild notes (1826); Diggle’s Ornithology of Australia in the original parts; and a manuscript by Robert Hoddle, “Diary of my journey within the colony of New South Wales”, with Hoddle’s own colour sketches.
Jim Stewart showed a sample copy of the current project being undertaken by Bob Summers of the Escutcheon Press in Sydney. It is the beginning of the Book of Genesis, a beautiful production. The printer’s son will be doing wood-cut blocks for the final edition.
Peter Williams showed a framed water-colour mock-up by S.T. Gill, of the cover for the Victorian Nautical and Commercial Almanac for 1855. This was the promotional art-work originally displayed in the window of the publisher Blundell’s shop, above which Gill had lodgings at the time. Peter also showed a copy of the work itself.
Jack Bradstreet showed a copy of The Recollections of Mr. James Lennox of New York, ed. By Henry Stevens, published by the Chiswick Press in 1886. Mr. Lennox was one of the earliest serious collectors of Americana.
John Young, who collects retail ephemera, showed a copy of the Mutual Store staff booklet from 1922, and an Australian Sewing Machine Co. hire purchase agreement. This shows the gradual paying-off of the machine from 1935 until the final instalment of the balance, £5/18/-, in January 1941, complete with the receipt.
John Emmerson, best known for his collection of seventeenthcentury books, showed a sixteenth-century book. He pointed out that this was a departure from his rule of not collecting books on his profession, the Law. The book on display was a copy of Sir Thomas Lyttleton’s New Tenures (1572). John felt that this was a rare book because of the poor survival rate of such books, and this was a good example, characteristic as to appearance and size (12mo). Unlike most early law books, printed in Law French, this was in English and gives a clear insight into the conditions of life in England in feudal times. The middle section deals with tenure on condition of providing service of a knight on one day per year.
Victor Spitzer mainly collects mountaineering books, but had brought an item from his collection of early dictionaries. This was by Scallopino (1440-1510), an Italian lexicographer whose Latin dictionary appeared in 1502. Victor’s book was of the later polyglot version in eight languages, published in Basle in 1584, with 1467 pages in double-column.
Nigel Sinnot showed two books from a collection retrieved by him from under a house at Chum’s Creek. The books were by American novelist, Amelia Barr. The first was an historical novel set in Cromwell’s time, The Lion’s Whelp (1902). This was of particular interest to Nigel as he is a life member of the Cromwell Association. The second was Amelia’s memoir, All the Days of my Life. Amelia is perhaps best known for her novel, Remember the Alamo. She was a devout Christian but believed in re-incarnation.
David Harris, a conservator at the State Library of Victoria, who also is a printer and runs the Set and Forget Press, showed a collection of editions of Robinson Crusoe. He drew our attention to a 1948 Brisbane edition, published by Jackson & O’Sullivan. The artist was William Bustard who provided ten colour plates. Dave was especially taken by the over-print of a foot on the page where Man Friday is discovered. He has constructed a box for the earliest edition of Robinson Crusoe in his collection; in fact it is a box within a box, each displaying the footprint motif. Dave has printed a book, Friday’s foot-notes, using Robert McLaren’s marbled paper and sand-paper to show water, waves and sand.
John Dean showed a holograph letter dated 1900 by H. Rider Haggard, about orchids.
Ken Duxbury who usually collects botanical and gardening books and related-ephemera showed examples from his latest field of collecting, Horwitz pulp publications from the 1950s to the 1970s. Among the items he had brought were examples of war novels by John Slater who specialised in plots about women in the Japanese and German prison camps.
Mick Stone, from Camberwell Books, showed a tourist pamphlet, Melbourne to the nearer ranges from the period between the wars. Mick had recently gone on the Kokoda Trail walk and had trained for it by walking in the Dandenongs, up through the Basin. He was particularly struck by Doongalla homestead, near the TV towers. It had been burnt out in the 1920s but the garden is still there.
Doug Gunn, who usually collects biographies showed us a copy of a catalogue from an exhibition mounted by the Performing Arts Centre, Bourke Street on Saturday Night (1983) This was an ambitious attempt by Frank van Straten to re-create the feel of the street in the hey-day of variety shows.
Richard Travers, one of the foremost collectors of medical books in Australia, showed a copy of The Self-Doctor (London, 1883). The first part of the book is on “Consumption”, and was bound second. Dr. Travers felt that the mis-binding was perhaps deliberate as it was illegal at the time to advertise cures for cancer or consumption; this book promotes a patent medicine cure for consumption. The book includes a notice giving a store-keeper in Sale, Vic., as the agent for the medicine.
Richard Overell showed a novel by Ada Cambridge, A Humble Enterprise (London: Ward Lock, 1896). This novel begins with the descriptions of the final thoughts of a man about to die, hit by a train at a level-crossing. The family, left almost destitute, open a tea and coffee shop in Melbourne. The commercial and social life of the city at the time are vividly shown. Novels such as these can often be a rich source of period detail neglected by researchers.
Our President, Wallace Kirsop mainly collects 18th century French books, and books on the book trade. From his collection he brought a copy of Traité élémentaire de bibliographie by M.S. Boulard (1804), a book about how to run a bookshop. Among the interesting details is a note that, when re-binding a book, a binder would turn over one page to show the original size.