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2005-06, 346, Brian Taylor, Vale

Eric Russell and the BCSA

In attempting to produce an account of Eric Russell’s association with the Book Collectors’ Society of Australia I have been mainly reliant on what I have been able to find by and about him in Biblionews, and on the basis of this source I can do no better than Judy Washington does above when she says he had been a member since the 1950s. His first contribution to the journal and so the first mention of him I know of is, according to John Fletcher’s Index 1947-1979, Numbers 1-245 (published 1982) and Index 1979-1983, Numbers 246-260 (published 1984), as author of the article “Katharine Susannah Prichard’s N’Goola” in the 163rd issue of 1959, pp.32-34. (NB Early issues of Biblionews did not always provide the month of publication.) Because this issue is lacking in the very defective set of copies I have as an Editor’s Archive (and I have Jeff Bidgood to thank forpassing on many of his duplicates so that I have a pre-1992 archive at all), I have not been able to see this article. His next contribution, in the 253rd issue of March 1982, pp.13-17, was an obituary for Bill Davis, “one of Australia’s most complete practitioners of the graphic arts in book publishing and printing”, who had died on 11 June 1978. His following contribution was also an obituary, this time in the 257 th issue of March 1983, pp.12-15, titled “The modest engineer: John William Earnshaw”, whom he describes in his opening sentence as “[one] of the most outstanding researchers in Australian history that this country has produced” and who had died on 11 October 1982.

It is only after I took over as Editor in 1992 that he published again, in the 295th issue of September that year, which was one dedicated to Jean Stone and John Fletcher, who had both died within a couple of days of each other right in the middle of the year, so yet again his “Tributes to Jean Stone and John Fletcher”, pp.69-71, constitute an obituary. This one is, however, autobiographically of use in that he indicates that he joined the Society as a result of meeting Jean and Walter Stone “early in the 1950s” when it met “in one of the lecture rooms of the old Public Library” and that in the 1960s he assisted Jean and Wal, as Walter Stone was generally known, with the publication of Biblionews, though mainly, it seems, with the envelóping and despatch of the copies. (A perusal of my archive indicates that Eric took over the role of Honorary Secretary, probably from Walter, in 1977 and held that position till it passed to Jean in 1981. He was a member of the Society’s Committee from at least December 1985, when the Committee members are first listed in the journal, till December 2002, though nominally in the last years, since his poor health prevented him from attending meetings.)

In the next issue of our journal, the 296th of December, 1992, we at last again have an article that is not an obituary, namely “Author! Author!” (pp.118-123), an amusing one critical of the modern tendency to sell authors to the book-buying world through public appearances and media events. His title comes from call from a London theatre audience to get the anonymous author of the play they had just seen to show herself, but she refused to appear. It turned out later to be Mary Annette Beauchamp, born in Kirribilli, NSW, in 1864, later married to a German nobleman and the equally anonymous author of her first book—and immediate best-seller— Elizabeth and her German Garden of 1898.

In the June and September issues of 1993, the 298th and 299th, he published a very informative two-part article “The rise and decline of the printed page: 1440-1990”, pp.51-60 and 69-80 respectively. A note at the end of Part II says: “This article is part of a longer work in progress”, though I am not sure if the longer work was ever completed and published. For Biblionews this article was a not insignificant milestone, since for the first time, as far as I can see, illustrations accompanied a long two-part article, indeed no less than nine (and one was of a computer!).

After this great burst of activity on behalf of the Society, Eric was asked— I think at the AGM in September 1993—to research and write a history of the BCSA for our long running series Studies in Australian Bibliography as part of the celebrations for the Society’s 50th anniversary in 1994. The work proved to require much more time than had been expected and, sadly, it was while Eric was attempting to interview a former member, by then severely affected by Alzheimer’s disease, that the assault occurred that began the decline in his health and probably hastened his death.

Judy Washington, who did much to assist Eric in his declining years, has kindly resolved to hand over all his papers related to the BCSA to the Society, and it may yet be that we will find he had progressed far enough with the work on its history for someone else to complete it and publish it for him, as a memorial to him.

Brian Taylor.

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