Incorporating some notes on book collecting theory and practice
(A talk given to the Victorian branch in November 2010)
IN 2002 I WAS invited to give a talk to the Book Collectors‘ Society (Victorian Branch) on the subject of old Tasmanian books but feeling overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task I avoided the topic and instead offered a more focussed talk on the early Tasmanian collector, Ronald Campbell Gunn. Having now published a book entitled Collecting Old Tasmanian Books there seems no escape – I can no longer avoid the subject.
Before proceeding further I need to explain what I mean by ‗old Tasmanian books‘. These are books published in or about Tasmania before the federation of the Australian colonies in 1901. In the main, they are conventional printed books but I also include pamphlets, newspapers, printed documents, broadsides, handbills, maps and prints. No one knows exactly how many items this is, but it is safe to say that it is at least a few thousand. To sensibly discuss this formidable corpus in a one-hour talk, or even a substantial book, is no easy task.
My book, Collecting Old Tasmanian Books, attempts to do this and more. The book is in four parts. The first is a thematic survey of old Tasmanian books. The second is about notable Tasmaniana collectors and their collections – there is much to learn from a study of the great collectors and collections of the past and they provide inspiration for collectors of today. The third part is on book collecting theory and practice – it is an attempt to provide a technical framework that collectors can use to become better collectors. The fourth part of the book is a select bibliography of over 300 items discussed in the text. This talk tries to convey some idea of the content of my book using a few illustrated examples from the text.
Thematic survey of old Tasmanian books
There are a number of way of discussing old Tasmanian books but after a false start and a deal of thought, I came to the conclusion that arranging the material in themes offered the best chance of writing a coherent narrative. From among many interesting possibilities I have chosen 19 themes that cover major threads in the social, cultural and economic development of Tasmania. The themes I have chosen are: European discovery, coastal exploration and settlement; convicts and transportation; emigration and land settlement; settler narratives; visitor narratives; Tasmanian Aborigines; natural history; science, technology and industry; tourism, sport and recreation; books in other languages; early printing in VDL [Van Diemen‘s Land, the old name of Tasmania]; Andrew Bent‘s decade, 1815–25; freedom of the press; growth and consolidation of the press; almanacs and directories; maps of Tasmania; Tasmania illustrated; literature; and, finally, histories of Tasmania. For each theme I describe the most important books, the kind of books that might be selected for a cabinet collection, and a supporting cast of well known and well-regarded books. I also include a few rare or unusual items that add further interest and detail. The selection of items is somewhat personal, though guided by the opinions of earlier scholars, bookmen and collectors in matters of taste, interest and importance. In the time available it will not be possible to discuss all the themes so I have selected just two – the first of these is on the theme of European discovery, coastal exploration and settlement.
Accounts of the discovery of Van Diemen‘s Land by Abel Tasman in 1642 are the foundation stones of a Tasmaniana collection. The first details appeared in maps and globes, the earliest of which was a world map published by Blaeu around 1645. The first regional map to show Tasman‘s discoveries was in the small pocket atlas N. I. Visscheri Tabularum Geographicarum published in Amsterdam in 1649. Tasman summarised the Dutch exploration of New Holland in a famous chart drawn in 1644 which was the basis for the first printed map of Australia published by Melchisedech Thévenot in his great collection of voyages, Relations de Divers Voyages Cvrievx [narratives of various curious voyages](Paris, 1663). The first printed report of Tasman‘s discoveries appeared in De Nieuwe en Onbekende Weerld of Beschryving van America en t’ Zuit-Land [the new and unknown world or description of America and the South Land] by Arnoldus Montanus (Amsterdam, 1671). This was a very brief account by Henrik Haelbos, the barber-surgeon on Tasman‘s ship. The first account based on Tasman‘s journal and other original material was published in Tweede Deel Van enige Oefeningen [second part of some exercises] by Dirk Rembrantz van Nei-rop (Amsterdam, 1674) and later translated into English by Robert Hooke and published in Philosophical Transactions (London, 1682). A more comprehensive account based on Tasman‘s journal and the records of the Dutch East India Company was published by François Valentijn in Oud en Nieuw Oost-indiën [old and new East Indies](Amsterdam, 1724–6). None of the original ships‘ journals from Tasman‘s two voy-ages to the South Land survive; however, one official transcript of his 1642–3 journal is in the Algemeen Rijksarchief (State Archive) in The Hague and was reproduced as a splendid photolithographic facsimile by Frederik Muller and Co in 1898. Copies are regularly offered for sale and would make a fine beginning for a Tasmaniana collection.
One hundred and thirty years after Tasman, the French expedition led by Marc-Joseph Marion Dufresne was the next to visit Van Diemen‘s Land. They landed at Marion Bay where the first encounter between Europeans and Tasmanians took place, sadly resulting in the death of one of the Aborigines. Marion was later killed by Maoris and after a long delay an account of the expedition, written by Marion‘s second-in-command, Julien Marie Crozet, was published as Nouveau Voyage à la Mer Sud, commencé sous les ordres de M. Marion [new voyage to the South Seas, begun under the orders of Monsieur Marion](Paris, 1783). The next explorers to visit Van Diemen‘s Land were members of Capt Cook‘s second expedition to the Pacific and Southern Oceans during 1772–5. Capt Tobias Furneaux in the Adventure found a safe anchorage at Adventure Bay and sailed along the east coast making a cursory survey. Cook himself landed at Adventure Bay while on his third voyage to the Pacific in 1776–80. In the official account of the voyage Cook describes the Tasmanians and includes important observations of their way of life. A less well known expedition to make landfall at Van Diemen‘s Land was led by John Henry Cox, commander of the brig Mercury. The voyage was represented as a private enterprise looking for trading opportunities but was in fact despatched by the Swedish king during the Russo-Swedish war to harass Russian fur-trading settlements in the north-west Pacific. This brief visit in July 1789 is recorded in Observations and Remarks made during a Voyage to the islands of Teneriffe, Amsterdam, Maria’s Islands near Van Diemen’s Land by George Mortimer (London, 1791).
Of the great eighteenth century expeditions to visit Van Diemen‘s Land, the honours must go to that led by Bruny D‘Entrecasteaux for its cartographic, scientific, and natural history discoveries. Visits in 1792 and 1793 resulted in the mapping of the coast in unprecedented detail using new methods of nautical surveying developed by the expedition‘s geographer, Beautemps-Beaupré. Meetings with the Tasmanians were the most important of all the great voyages and while many of the natural history collections were lost, a comprehensive foundation for Tasmanian botany was laid by the naturalist Labillardière. The achievements were recorded in two handsome publications: the official account by Elisabeth-Paul-Edouard de Rossel, Voyage de D’Entrecasteaux envoyé à la Recherche de la Pérouse [D‘Entrecasteaux‘s voyage sent in search of la Perouse](Paris, 1808) accompanied by the fine Atlas de Voyage de Bruny-D’Entrecasteaux (Paris, 1807); and a private account written by Labillardière, Relation du Voyage à la Recherche de la Pérouse [narrative of the voyage in search of la Perouse](Paris, 1800). Two months after the departure of D‘Entrecasteaux, a privately financed expedition led by Lt John Hayes of the Bombay Marine arrived at Adventure Bay. He was driven into southern waters by adverse winds but made the most of the visit by exploring the D‘Entrecasteaux Channel and Derwent River. Charts made from rough sketches by Hayes were published by London mapmakers Arrowsmith and Laurie and Whittle in 1798.
The discovery of Bass Strait and the insularity of Van Diemen‘s Land by George Bass and Matthew Flinders was a momentous event in the history of Australian exploration. Unfortunately, the published results of their voyage in the sloop Norfolk during 1798 are so rare that for most collectors they must remain a dream. The two most important publications are ‗A Chart of Bass‘s Strait between New South Wales and Van Diemen‘s Land . . .‘ (London, 16 June 1800) and an accompanying book, Observations on the Coasts of Van Diemen’s Land, on Bass’s Strait and its Islands (London, 1801), both published by Arrowsmith. The book and chart are the most important and valuable items of Tasmaniana published before European settlement. With just three copies of the book known to be in private hands only a few wealthy collectors will ever obtain a copy. However, there is another contemporary account of the discoveries in David Collins‘ An Account of the English Colony of New South Wales (London, 1798 and 1802) – in the second volume there is a transcript from Bass‘s journal.
Nicolas Baudin led another great French voyage of discovery to the Australian region in 1800–04. The official account, Voyage de Découvertes aux Terres Australes . . . [voyage of discovery in the southern lands] was written by François Péron and Louis de Freycinet and published in parts between 1807 and 1816. Opinions are mixed as to the overall success of the expedition but in terms of discoveries made in Van Diemen‘s Land it is comparable with the D‘Entrecasteaux expedition. The observations of the Tasmanians by Baudin and the naturalist Péron, the portraits recorded by the expedition artists Lesueur and Petit, and Freycinet‘s account of the construction of water-craft by the Aborigines, are an invaluable record. No effort or expense was spared in producing the published results; for example, a number of the illustrations were printed in brilliant colour and the charts in the large hydrographical atlas of the south-east coast of Van Diemen‘s Land and of Bass Strait are the finest ever produced. A second edition of the narrative was published by Freycinet in 1824 with 25 new plates including some additional Aboriginal portraits.
While Baudin was surveying the south and west coasts of Australia, Matthew Flinders circumnavigated the continent in the Investigator. The results of his voyage were published in A Voyage to Terra Australis (London, 1814) with, in the atlas volume, a fine chart of Van Diemen‘s Land based mainly on his earlier survey with Bass in the Norfolk. The chart was also separately published by the Admiralty and over the years was reissued with new details added from the surveys of Phillip Parker King and John Lort Stokes. The chart remained in print throughout the nineteenth century and is the most important map of the Tasmanian coastline ever produced.
The European settlement of Van Diemen‘s Land was accomplished by three separate movements of people: Lt John Bowen established an outpost at Risdon Cove in September 1803; Lt-Governor David Collins formed a major settlement at Sullivan‘s Cove in February 1804; and Colonel William Paterson established a small settlement at Port Dalrymple in November 1804. Of these the only contemporary published account was written by Lt James Hingston Tuckey, An Account of a Voyage to Establish a Colony at Port Philip in Bass’s Strait. . . in the years 1802–3–4 (London, 1805). Other details were published much later by Capt Amasa Delano in Narrative of Voyages and Travels, in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere (Boston, 1817). Delano, an adventurous American sea captain, visited the Derwent in March 1804 and witnessed the camp established at Sullivan‘s Cove.
Early printing in Van Diemen’s Land
The second theme I have chosen to talk about is early printing in Van Diemen‘s Land. This theme provides a rare opportunity to examine the history of printing and book production in one place from its very beginning. The earliest Van Diemen‘s Land imprints are the General Orders printed at Sullivan‘s Cove in February 1804 on the subject of the issue of rations, hours of labour and the issuing of stores. They were printed by the Calcutta convict Francis Barnes on an old wooden foolscap press purchased by Collins from the Fleet Street printer Thomas Bensley. The only surviving copies are in the UK National Archives, sent to London in despatches by Lt-Governor Collins and Governor King. Government notices were the main output of the press and at the end of Lt-Governor Davey‘s first year in office they were reprinted and issued as the first book printed in Van Diemen‘s Land, Government and General Orders, Government House, Hobart, Van Diemen’s Land. From February, 1813 to February, 1814 (Hobart, 1814). The Mitchell Library holds the only known surviving copy of this important incunabulum. Some of the most interesting government notices from this period concern bushranging which was causing wide-spread alarm in the colony. The infamous Michael Howe and his gang were at large prompting Davey to proclaim martial law in April 1815.
Apart from proclamations, orders, and notices, the only other surviving early Van Diemen‘s Land imprints are newspapers. The first was The Derwent Star and Van Diemen’s Land Intelligencer, printed by J. Barnes and T. Clark ‗at the Government Press, Hobarttown‘. Twelve issues printed on a quarto leaf with wide margins were published fortnightly from 8 January 1810, price 2 shillings. The only surviving issue in Australia, known from a few copies, is no. 7, published on 3 April 1810, reporting the funeral of Lt-Governor Collins. John West in his milestone book, History of Tasmania (Launceston, 1852), gives some interesting particulars of the contents of other issues no longer extant. An attempt was made to resurrect the paper in 1812 but this failed after only one issue. A further attempt was made with The Van Diemen’s Land Gazette and General Advertiser printed by the government printer George Clark, assisted by Andrew Bent. The paper commenced on 7 May 1814 but after nine issues it too ceased publication.
Andrew Bent became government printer in 1815, the beginning a golden era with many outstanding achievements for which he became known as the ‗second [Benjamin] Franklin‘. Foremost of his achievements was the establishment of the Hobart Town Gazette as a weekly newspaper from 1 June 1816. In the beginning, issues of the Gazette were printed on China paper, made from bamboo and rice straw, and frequently made up from scraps pasted together to form a sheet a little under the size of foolscap. During later paper shortages the blue paper used for book covering and pamphlet wrappers was pressed into service. Ink too was in short supply and Bent ended up making his own printing ink which he also supplied to the government printer in Sydney. By 1825 Bent was the proprietor of the Gazette, which had grown in size and stature to a veritable ‗thunderer‘. It is by far the most important printed record of the period and will forever be indispensable to historians and other researchers.
The most famous of all Van Diemen‘s Land imprints was announced in the Gazette issue of 6 March 1819 – Michael Howe, the last and worst of the Bush Rangers of Van Diemen’s Land. Narrative of the chief atrocities committed by this Great Murderer and his associates, during a period of six years in Van Diemen’s Land. From authentic sources of information. The anonymous author was Thomas E Wells and the little 36-page book was printed by Bent on China paper, the same kind of paper he used to print the Gazette. Only three copies are known to survive and are held by the National Library of Australia, the British Library and the Bodleian Library at Oxford University. Though it was not the first book printed in the colonies, Sir John Ferguson thought that Michael Howe might ‗be fairly described as the first work of general literature printed in Australasia‘. For this reason it is held with special affection in the hearts of Australiana collectors and would cause a sensation should another copy turn up.
Notable Tasmaniana Collectors
Collecting old Tasmanian books has a long and distinguished history. I have tried to record some of this in a study of notable collectors beginning with early nineteenth century collectors, then Ronald Campbell Gunn, the Scott family and James Erskine Calder, Justin McCarty Browne and James Backhouse Walker. In the twentieth century there was John Watt Beattie and Clive Lord, Robert Sticht, William Walker, Edmund Morris Miller, Cecil and Henry Allport, William Crowther, Archie Meston and Clifford Craig. In the time available it is not possible to do justice to all these collectors and their collections so I have chosen to speak about just one – the incomparable Dr Clifford Craig. To my mind, it is he who wears the champion‘s laurels because as well as forming a wonderful collection he fully engaged in the bibliographical side of collecting by reading, researching and writing about his books.
Clifford Craig (1896–1986) was born at Box Hill, Victoria, and after war service completed his medical training at Melbourne University and the Royal Children‘s Hospital. In 1926 he was appointed Surgeon-Superintendent at the Launceston General Hospital with which he was associated in various capacities until retirement in 1976. He began seriously collecting Tasmaniana in 1938 and with the help of leading booksellers his collection quickly developed. In recollections recorded in 1974, Sir William Crowther said Craig was ‗the most important figure in collecting Tasmaniana in the last 50 years‘.
As Craig‘s collection and knowledge grew he turned his attention to bibliographical research and writing. One of the great strengths of his collection was pictorial material, both paintings and prints, and this inspired him in 1961 to publish the first of three milestone books on old Tasmanian prints. It was an attempt to describe all known prints published before 1901 – an extraordinary achievement, unparalleled in Australia. He also published The Van Diemen’s Land Edition of the Pickwick Papers (Hobart, 1973), a bibliographical study of Henry Dowling‘s pirated edition of Dickens‘s famous work. This was followed by a more ambitious study of the Tasmanian Punch magazines, an interest aroused during his research on old Tasmanian prints. Close examination of the Punch cartoons revealed a rich source of social and political comment which he recorded and interpreted in Mr Punch in Tasmania. Colonial politics in cartoons, 1866–1879 (Hobart, 1980). One last book, Notes on Tasmaniana (Launceston, 1986), published posthumously, is a collection of reminiscences reflecting upon the highlights of nearly 40 years of book collecting.
Great book collections have a well-defined objective or theme, a unifying structure built from standard works, a high degree of completeness, and books in unusually good physical condition. All of these characteristics were found in the Craig collection. Amongst the books were Flinders‘ Observations on the Coasts of Van Diemen’s Land, an exceptional uncut copy in original wrappers, and the greatest prize amongst pre-settlement books. All of the early almanacs except Bent‘s 1829, the seven Canadian patriot narratives, extremely rare newspapers and magazines some known only from the Craig copies, an outstanding plate book section including Prout‘s Tasmania Illustrated (Hobart Town, 1844 and 1846) and Piguenit‘s Salmon Ponds (Hobart Town, 1867), and a comprehensive map collection including Arrowsmith‘s maps showing the discoveries of Bass and Flinders. There was an important collection of medical books, both colonial and antiquarian, and the library of early Van Diemen‘s Land doctor, George Storey. Craig and his wife also assembled a notable collection of Tasmanian colonial pictures and one of the finest collections of Australian colonial furniture, especially pre-1830 cedar pieces.
In 1975 Craig announced his intention to sell his Tasmaniana collection by auction in Launceston. Christie‘s handled the sale which turned out to be the greatest book sale in Australia up to that time with many record prices. The sale total of $341,000 included $147,000 for paintings and prints with the balance of $194,000 for books, maps and manuscripts more than double the previous record set by the Coles sale in 1965. A few remaining books and duplicates were sold at a Christie‘s Melbourne sale in 1979. Dr Craig died aged 90 on 5 September 1986 and in 1992 his estate was used to establish the Clifford Craig Medical Research Trust in Launceston.
Book collecting theory and practice
The chapter of my book on collecting theory and practice was written for novices but even experienced collectors will find there are some new ideas. The most important of these is value theory which seeks to answer the old problem of estimating what a book is worth. The most common method is to trace the sale history of a book over a long period of time – ideally from the time it was published to the present day. However, for old books the data may not be easy to find and for rare books there can be so few sale records that the data is statistically unreliable. Long-term changes in value can be more reliably estimated for a shelf of books. The idea is to take a reasonable sample of books from an old dealers catalogue, add up the prices, then estimate the present day value based on recent sale prices. There are various uncertainties which diminish as the sample size increases and a surprisingly good estimate of the long term price appreciation can be obtained. In my book I give an example for a shelf of old Tasmanian books which results in an average price appreciation of about 6 per cent per year (compound).
Microeconomics provides another way of understanding book values. Classical theory defines value in terms of the labour required to produce commodities, goods and services. However, the theory is unable to give a satisfactory explanation for the value of collectables, luxury items and intangibles and has been replaced by the ‗marginal theory of value‘. This theory takes account of desirability in addition to supply and demand. To apply the theory to book collecting it is first necessary to define desirability. There are three factors that determine desirability: rarity, condition and significance. The first two have their usual meaning while significance is a measure of the intrinsic qualities of a book that make it special – beauty, content and provenance. The relationship between the three factors and desirability is shown in the accompanying diagram.
To advance the discussion further it is necessary to clarify the meaning of rarity, condition and significance. While most bookmen have a firm idea of the meaning of rarity, this does not ensure that they can readily reach agreement on a precise definition let alone a quantitative measure; however, all would agree that it is a measure of the supply of copies – the number of copies available in the market during a certain period of time. This leads to the gradations of rarity, as generally understood by buyers and sellers of old books, and may be defined as follows:
CMMON: copies are usually available.
SCARCE: several copies may turn up every year.
VERY SCARCE: a copy might appear once a year.
RARE: a copy might appear once every three years.
VERY RARE: a copy might appear once every ten years.
EXTREMELY RARE: a copy might be encountered once in a life-time (~ 30 years).
Condition should be the least problematic of the factors affecting desirability but even here there is scope for confusion because of the practice often used in the book trade of making allowance for the age of the book. Such allowances and exceptions are arbitrary and misleading and are too often used to describe books in more favourable terms than they deserve, needlessly disappointing buyers relying on catalogue descriptions. Professional booksellers wouldn‘t dream of describing the condition of a book as ‗good for its age‘, but this is the practical effect of having a subjective age-based sliding scale of condition. It is far better to have a single well-understood scale of overall condition, together with an honest statement of a book‘s particular shortcomings. All such statements will inevitably be subjective to a degree, but if they are based on a simple understanding of the most commonly used descriptors, much mischief can be avoided. The definitions which follow should satisfy the needs of booksellers and collectors alike:
AS NEW: the condition expected for a new book direct from its publisher, showing no signs of use or handling.
FINE: a book in a tight publisher‘s binding, complete in all details, including any original dust jacket (dust wrapper) and showing only the slightest signs of use, with insignificant blemishes.
VERY GOOD: a book in a firm original or contemporary binding, with dust jacket if so issued, complete and with ample margins, and in clean and crisp condition. Signs of use, minor defects and occasional foxing spots are tolerable.
GOOD: a book that is complete, preferably in an original or contemporary binding but acceptable in a sympathetic later binding. If in the original binding it may be loose but still holding together. Usually with obvious signs of wear, slight soiling, stains or mild foxing, and may have minor edge tears.
FAIR: a book that may lack preliminary blanks, half-title, or advertisement leaves, but otherwise complete. A pamphlet may lack its original wrappers. May be worn, mildly soiled or stained, foxed and paper browned. Tears may be repaired with minor loss of text. Generally regarded as unsatisfactory condition by collectors, except for very rare or unique items, or those having a notable provenance.
POOR: a book that may lack some leaves, plates and maps, or with other paper loss including tears and holes. May be badly foxed, soiled, stained, mouldy, water or insect damaged. Binding may be badly worn and broken. This condition is only acceptable for the rarest or unique items or those having an association with important individuals or historical events.
Significance is not so easily defined as rarity and condition. It is a measure of how special a particular book is compared with others in the field, or how special a particular copy of a book is compared to other copies. We said earlier that significance was a measure of the intrinsic qualities – beauty, content and provenance. Beauty in design, binding, illustrations and typography are all admired aesthetic qualities that can make a book special. Another special quality attaches to milestone books which have, because of their content, somehow changed the world. Then there is provenance, another quality that can make a book special. A book‘s significance can be described by words like exceptional, outstanding, distinguished, significant, and minor significance. An exceptionally significant book would be a very important work, usually with great beauty or notable provenance while a book with minor significance might be an ordinary title signed by a long forgotten author, just marginally more collectable than an unsigned copy. Judging significance is not easy and often requires a good deal of thought, not to mention research. There will also be a personal element as different people will have different views about the qualities that make a book significant. Some may not be fully aware of all the special qualities that a book may possess, and this is where expert knowledge and experience are a definite advantage.
Desirability is a combination of the factors: condition, significance and rarity. Each of these factors is independent of the others and they have no particular direction of action. In these circumstances the simplest mathematical combination of the factors is arithmetic addition and the sum is the desirability index. This method is adopted in many situations where the addition of independent variables is used to arrive at a measure of the ‗goodness‘ or to rank the quality of related products. A well known example occurs in wine judging where colour, bouquet and taste are the basic factors that are evaluated, numerically rated and the scores added together to give an overall total score for each wine.
Desirability in book collecting can be determined in exactly the same way. In my book I show how to score the condition, significance and rarity factors to arrive at a numerical rating of desirability. Once the desirability of a particular copy has been determined it can be used as a benchmark if its value has been established (at auction for example). I then show how it is straight forward to estimate the value of other copies relative to the benchmark. The subject can be pursued much further but this is not the time to do that – those who are interested will find the details in my book:
Ian J. Wilson,
Collecting Old Tasmanian Books, Melbourne: Boobook Press 2010. H276 × W200 mm, pp. [ii] (frontis.); x; 282 (last blank). 40 colour and b&w illustrations incl. 12 double-page colour and one fold-out panorama. Price $150 plus $12 postage from the author, 24 Avonside Road, Belgrave Heights, Victoria 3160.
Ian Wilson is a retired physicist who spends most of his time collecting, reading and writing about old Tasmanian books. He is the author of Collecting old Tasmanian books (2010) and ‗China paper usage in early Van Diemen‘s Land printing‘, The Quarterly journal of the British Association of Paper Historians (October 2009). Email is <firstname.lastname@example.org>.