AT the time I started work in 1948 there were a number of secondhand booksellers still operating in the lower end (i.e. the Quay end) of Sydney City. All these shops have long since vanished in new developments. Indeed, so too have many of the booksellers vanished into the great beyond. I was fortunate in that I was allotted the off lunch hour — I went to lunch at twelve o’clock and returned at one o’clock whilst the remainder of the staff went from one to two. Lunch never appealed that early and I was able to wander the streets of Sydney for an hour and eat lunch on my return.
Having just married and saving for a home we did not have a great deal of money to spare. However, as both of us loved books, we put aside a small amount each week in order to purchase books, and not necessarily new books. In the main it fell to my lot to seek out suitable books and on some Saturday mornings we would jointly trawl the booksellers and make our purchases. What a number of second-hand booksellers there were! In addition, the principal sellers of new books, A&R, Dymocks, Swains and Dwyers, all had quite large second-hand departments.
Not that we trawled often but many members of the Society did and when the shops closed, as they did in those days, at midday they gathered at Repin’s Restaurant in George Street to discuss books and book collecting.
We joined them when in town and listened and learned. The reason for meeting at Repin’s was that Tim Hotimsky, a member, was married into the Repin family and was Secretary of Repin’s.
So what do I remember of these people and places?
In no particular order the first name that comes to mind is Jim Tyrrell whose shop was in George Street on the same side as the main entrance to Wynyard railway station, almost next door heading towards the Quay. It was probably the largest in area of all the second-hand booksellers in Sydney and Jim was considered the doyen of his contemporaries. The shop had two levels, the main area being about four times larger than the raised area. The lower area had books on shelves and on tables. On the upper area the books were in cabinets, which were not locked in those halcyon days, containing the rare books. It was there also that Jim had a desk at which he sat pricing books and watching to see if he could help a customer. Jim was very kind toward me and very helpful. In fact this was true of all the booksellers. They were all gentlemen of the old school. In addition the Second World War had not long finished and I was one of the few new collectors. That is that I was at least twentyfive years younger than the majority of either the sellers or the collectors!
As I was about six feet tall (1.83 metres), when I say I remember Jim, and most other booksellers, as short they were probably not that short! Jim was short with glasses and quite slim. He had a wonderful knowledge of books and artefacts and was not loath to pass on his knowledge. On a number of occasions Jim would beckon me up to his desk and there introduce me to some item that would enhance my collection. Mostly they were items that he knew I could afford and in the long term proved very valuable buys.
For example it was he who directed me to three of the major items in my children’s collection. They were two early May Gibbs books, Gum-Nut Babies (1916) and Gum-Blossom Babies (1917). Each cost twelve shillings and six pence ($1.25), approximately one fifteenth of one week’s salary!
Later when I started collecting bookplates I discovered that Jim had a box of bookplates that sold for three pence (3c) each or five for a shilling (10c). Also from time to time Jim would give me a bookplate gratis.
His son Graham took over after his death, by which time the shop had moved to the other side of George Street and closer to the Quay. Jim’s was in fact the first shop to move or disappear at the hands of developers, as I knew them although many had gone before in rebuilding. The new shop was on two floors, ground and basement, and really did not lend itself to the trade. Later the shop moved to Crows Nest, which I did not visit, and Tyrell’s as a second-hand bookseller disappeared. Peter Tinslay’s Antique Books and Curios now occupies the building.
A short distance from Tyrell’s was Buddy Larson’s in Bond Street. It appears in my memory as a very small and pokey shop. Buddy, as I remember him, was short and stocky and may have made the shop look smaller.
As the name suggests he was probably of Scandinavian origin. Like all the other shops it had that musty smell associated with the trade but seemed stronger there due to its confined space. Buddy did not have a great deal of stock but it was selective and costly. It was there that I purchased a copy of the Mardus/Mathers’ translation of The Arabian Nights. It was issued by the Casanova Society Press is one of “A few sets … bound specially strongly in quarter leather calf and and calf corners, cloth sides” issued at £20 in 1923—a major purchase as it cost twelve pounds ($24), the equivalent of two weeks salary! Also in those in those days The Arabian Nights, particularly the Mardus/Mathers translation, was considered salacious to say the least! It was close to being banned, as were many books that now are considered suitable reading for anyone let alone adults!
Further down towards the Quay in Pitt Street, Stan Nichols had his shop. He was in stature very much like Jim Tyrrell. His shop did not have the same ambience as Jim’s but he had quite a large ground floor area crammed with books. He really was appealing to the passing trade walking up town from the ferries.
Eventually dispossessed by developers he re-opened in Crane Place but it was not successful. At a much later date John and Rhonda Shield also opened a shop in Crane Place. They were really graphic designers waiting for work to eventuate, which it did. In the interim he designed some bookplates and sold second hand books.
Old(?) Mr Jones had a shop near the top of Hunter Street and next to Tost & Rohu, which was owned by Jim Tyrrell. At the time I started collecting Tost & Rohu had ceased to trade; it was defined as a Taxidermists, Furriers and Curiosity Shop. Mr Jones was the person who, when I was endeavouring to find out how you had a bookplate made, introduced me to Colin Berckelman. Mr Jones I remember as a tall thin gentleman who, when attending meetings of the Book Collectors’ Society, carried an ebony walking cane. I am not sure why the cane as he was invariably accompanied by a lady of much younger years who appeared to dwell on his every word and kept him propped up. The shop was quite small but he dealt in some fine books. You might note that not only did I refer to him to as Mr Jones but most other collectors did also. It was from Mr Jones that I acquired some Golden Cockerels and bookplate books.
Among one or two other booksellers not mentioned was Bishop, who owned Sheppard’s bookshop. He had a rather exclusive shop in Castlereagh Street near Hunter Street. Another was the EFG bookshop in Hosking Place, an arcade between Pitt and Castlereagh Streets next to Penfolds and opposite Swains. Neither really sold second-hand books.
A&R, Dymocks, Greenwood’s and Dwyer’s were not visited as often, as they were not within walking distance. That is to say that by the time you walked there and back there was little or no time to browse. Swains was a different kettle of fish as their store was in Pitt Street just short of Martin Place on the side closest to the Quay. Their second hand department was not very extensive.
A&R and Dymocks both had their second-hand areas upstairs on the first floor. Both dealt mainly with books than were more valuable and not too many “run of the mill” books. One of my favourite books is Old and Rare Scottish Tartans, a limited edition of three hundred copies printed in 1893. The tartans are woven is silk and dyed with lichen dyes and although the paper has discoloured, the tartans are like new. It was purchased for $50 from A&R in 1970. In it is a note of thanks from W E Davidson (then Governor of New South Wales) returning the book to Hugh D McIntosh.
McIntosh, it might be remembered, was not only a collector but also a showman who, amongst other events, arranged the Burns v Johnson boxing fight in Sydney in 1908. At that time it was a world-renowned event. Also purchased at A&Rs was a wonderful Book of Hours.
Herbert Vickery had his shop in Redfern near the old Redfern Town Hall and it seemed to be a long way away as I was dependant on public transport. Mr Vickery had many wonderful books but out of our price range.
Peter Tinslay, together with his first wife Maureen, had premises in Cremorne. By the time they opened I had our own transport and was able to visit them at weekends. From Peter I purchased a number of Saturday Books and, eventually, having almost completed a set, I purchased a complete set which had been previously owned by Walter Stone. As I had two children I still have two sets of Saturday Books! In addition Peter ventured into publishing with James Taylor of Wayzgoose Press. Together they produced Wayzgoose One a hand printed volume, which unfortunately had only one issue. There is a copy on my bookshelves. Peter is still (2004) operating out of premises in Crows Nest as previously mentioned.
Meeting with Colin Berckelman, who was then Secretary/Treasurer of the Book Collectors’ Society, it was not long before I became a member.
Here I meet many of the people to whom our libraries owe so much, as they were collectors in the true sense. That is to say, they liked the thrill of the chase, the complete set, the only known copy, and thought of selling for financial gain never entered their heads. Certainly some of the members were financially secure but there were also many that were not as well endowed.
Who were some of these members? Let us start with Colin Berckelman who was my guide and mentor in many things. Colin could best be described as a rotund jolly person, who like many members neither drank nor smoked. This was considered to be a very sober attitude to life in those days. Colin was, I believe, one of the founding members of the Society. He had a wicked sense of humour and always maintained that the constitution of the Society was written in Chinese. This he averred was decided in the early days of the Society so that time would not be taken at meetings arguing about whether something was constitutional or not! Colin collected mainly Lindsay and bookplates. He had a business wholesaling padlocks and drawer locks, which demanded his attention for only about an hour a day. As a consequence he had many hours in the day to attend auctions and trawl the bookshops. One of his purchases was a Leica camera, the camera in those days, and used it principally to photograph commercial buildings listed for demolition and replacement with new office blocks. Fisher Library holds these I believe together with his extensive collection but Neil Radford, as former Fisher Librarian, tells that he has no knowledge of them. It may be that at the time someone thought that they must be very interesting.
Colin purchased for us our first Norman Lindsay etching and in true Colin style ribbed me about having paid three guineas ($6.30) for it, as he had done for the copy he had, but my copy was framed—and therefore worth more? Colin lived at Bondi and once told me he was selling his house and buying a new one. Knowing his house I asked Colin why and he replied, “I need more room, I cannot go to the toilet for books!”
Harry Chaplin was President from the time I joined until his death. He too was an avid collector of Lindsay and and also of Brennan. I should add that whilst most collectors centred on Norman they also snaffled any other Lindsay items they might come across. Two books issued by the Society described the Lindsay and Brennan collections he had amassed. He was the only member I can remember who refused to hand books around a meeting on the basis that they were so rare that they would not get to the end of the circle!
Walter Stone was at that time Treasurer of the Society and later filled all the positions including President in order to keep the Society afloat. Wal collected many items that are now considered ephemera but were then just bits and pieces. Not being as affluent as some he concentrated on the “lower” end of the market.
Not that they were the low brow but always rare and worth collecting. It was his complete set of Saturday Books that I acquired before completing my own set as mentioned above. Wal was the only member of the Industrial Workers of the World (Wobblies) I ever met and far Left. He was President of the Mosman Branch of the Communist Party, and was next to Arthur Calwell, leader of the Labour Party, on the night of the attempted assassination of Calwell. His bookplate, drawn by Raymond Lindsay, includes Henry Lawson, books, a kangaroo and drama masks. This about sums up a “fair dinkum Aussie”.
Although politically at opposite ends of the spectrum we respected each other’s views and our assessment of election outcomes tended to be more accurate than the forecasts were as we were honest with each other. I miss our discussions.
If ever we had a silver tongued Irishman in Australia it was James Meagher. James was a barrister by profession and I am not sure what he collected but he was very knowledgeable on many subjects besides the Law. One fond memory of James that I have is at an Annual General Meeting when he was asked to be the Returning Officer, as he was not standing for any office. He replied that he was only willing to accept the position if it was renamed “Elector”! The reason for this was that there was only ever one nomination for each of the principal offices and anyone nominated for the Council was elected, as the “Chinese Constitution” was flexible in that regard! We were both members of the same golf club and we played together quite often.
One of the science fiction collectors was Stan Larnach. Stan I did not know very well but I understand that he worked in the Anthropological Department at Sydney University basically storing and cataloguing skulls. Later I was to learn that Stan had become one of the foremost authorities in this area. I have one of his books A Checklist of Australian Fantasy, which originally belonged to Wal Stone and is inscribed “my friend Walter Stone from Stan Larnach”.
There were many other members but I did not know them as well as the above members. As we met on Friday nights many of the booksellers mentioned above were in attendance. Also some ladies including Jean Stone, Rose Smith and Nancy Johnson were some names I remember and in later years I got to see more of them as the family grew and business needs altered.
This then brings us to the era of John Fletcher and his Presidency, which is reasonably well chronicled.