New exhibition: Imperial Japan’s wartime propaganda

Promotional image for the exhibition

The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere: to propagate or to be propagated is an East Asian Collection exhibition that feature wartime propaganda posters and photograph. A physical display is currently on level 4, Fisher Library.

CONTENT WARNING: The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere: to propagate or to be propagated analyses and critiques visual representations of the political rationalisation strategies of the Japanese Empire during World War II from a historical perspective. The following post contains politically biased contents, including romanticisation and celebration of colonialism and racially vilifying imagery. The post does not reflect the views of the Library or the curator.


The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere: to propagate or to be propagated

The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere (GEACPS, 1931-15 August 1945) was a supranational framework consisting of the Empire of Japan’s colonial territories within geographical proximity near the metropolis from, but not limited to, Empire of Manchuria, Republic of China, Kingdom of Thailand, State of Burma, to Provisional Government of Free India. (See “Map of East and South-East Asia” below for the visualisation of countries’ geographical proximity to Tokyo, Japan).

Such geographical proximity influenced not only the structure of the colonial administration and racial hierarchies in the empire, but also the rhetorical strategies to legitimise colonial rule.

A black-and-white map of East and South-East Asia taken from John Halliday and Gavan McCormack's book, Japanese Imperialism Today: ‘Co-Prosperity in Greater East Asia’, that denotes radius distances from Tokyo, Japan.
“Map of East and South-East Asia”
John Halliday and Gavan McCormack, Japanese Imperialism Today: ‘Co-Prosperity in Greater East Asia’ (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1973), 360-361. At 327.5205 4

The ideology of the Japanese colonial empire to prosper Asia under its leadership preached the unity of the GEACPS, reflective of Pan-Asianism, with an established system to not only advance each nation’s economic role, but also assimilate politically, culturally, and linguistically. Although the intention was perceived skewed and geared towards Japan’s welfare specifically her economic and military interests, the mass media censored and controlled by the government reinforced amicable and constructive impression on colonisation and wartime assimilation, away from the realities of violence and inequality.

The wartime posters and photographs, exclusively censored, produced, and publicised, were pictorial instruments of the belligerent governments within the interconnected scheme of systematic rationalisation and justification. The propaganda of Imperial Japan oriented towards rationalising the conquest, justifying colonial rule and idealising war mission to mobilise the Empire of Japan during the Second World War as the “liberator” of Asia from Western colonialism and the “builder of new order”.

At the core of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere was Pan-Asianism that promoted the political and economic unity and cooperation of Asian peoples by depicting the war as a “race war” against the West, led by the United States and the British Empire. Pan-Asianism, which emerged in the late 19th century, was an ideology advocated and actively promoted by Japan to wield influence over the colonised territories and retain dominance through voluntary assimilation. Pan-Asianism was an instrument to legitimise the conquest and the subsequent colonial rule of Imperial Japan as the “liberator” of Asia from Western colonialism by encouraging patriotism to seek social equality through the expression of loyalty to a transcendental emperor. Hideki Tojo (1884–1948), Prime Minister of Japan during the World War II, praised the “spiritual essence” of Greater East Asia, which he contrasted with the “materialistic civilisation” of the West during the Greater East Asian Conference of 1943 (Tokyo, 5-6 November 1943) – which was responded by the members of the conference pledging solidarity in pursuing a race war. While encouraging peoples of the colonised territories to follow, Japan encouraged the Japanese army to lead. The ‘Read This and the War is Won’ booklet intended for the Japanese army unfurled Imperial Japan’s banner that it is a duty of the Great Power of Orient to stabilise Asia and emancipate its oppressed peoples “emasculated by generations of colonial subjugation, with blood and colour linked to that of Japanese… [and] make men of them again and lead them along the path of liberation”.[1]


[1] John W. Dower, War Without Mercy: Race & Power in the Pacific War (New York: Pantheon Books, c.1986), 24-25.


The Poster

The poster as a strategic means of disseminating information is potent, particularly within the context of a systematic wartime propaganda. The “blank canvas” quality of poster that enables graphic and visually arresting designs, manipulation of representations, and inclusion of symbolism and concise texts, made it an effective tool of propaganda.

Accordingly, a poster was often used for: advertising – targeted form of promotion for not only product but also ideology; stereotyping – arousing prejudices by portraying enemies with stereotyped racial features; dehumanising – depriving enemies of human qualities to generate a sense of fear and hatred; repetition – reiterating a particular symbol or slogan; and flag-waving – justifying violence a patriotic act based on the undue connection to nationalism.

Advertisement

An advertisement of international rail routes by the Board of Tourist Industry, Japanese Government Railways, with a photograph of a train running against the backdrop of Mount Fuji. Under the photograph, international destinations are listed as 'Peking, Shanghai, Hanoi, Saigon, Bangkok, Manila, Buenos Ares', and 'Berlin'.
“Nippon – Board of Tourist Industry, Japanese Government Railways”
大東亜写真年報 = 2603年版. Japan Photo Almanac.; Daitōa shashin nenpō = Japan Photo Almanac. 2603 nenban. (The Domēi Tsushin-Sha, Shōwa 18 (1943)). At EA 3393.27

The advertisement poster of international rail routes highlights Empire of Japan’s industrial achievement and its vision to become the “builder of new order” with the construction and expansion of transport services connecting Japan, Korea, Manchuria, China, and Europe. Along with the international rail routes advertisement, posters on coal mining of Mengchiang (Mongol Border Land), Taiwanese pure cane sugar, bank (of Japan, China, and Manchou), textile, hotel (“Hotel New Osaka”), and insurance, covered in The Almanac andadvertised in English language, are interesting to note.

The advertisement showcases one side of the coin without a glimpse of the other. Notably, the Burma-Thailand Railway is known as the “Death Railway” today due to the high death toll of a captive labour force of approximately 60,000 Allied prisoners of war forcibly engaged in the construction of rail line.

Stereotyping and De-humanising Cartoon

In a book War Without Mercy by John Dower (1986), “the white men were described as arrogant colonials who dwelled in splendid houses on mountainsides and hilltops, from which they looked down on the tiny, thatched huts of the natives. they took it as their birthright to be allotted a score or so natives as personal slaves”.

Osaka Puck cartoon depiction of John Bull shackling Indians getting stabbed by the Japanese flag with the words ‘Greater East Asian War’ written on it.
“Osaka Puck cartoon depiction of John Bull shackling Indians getting stabbed by the Japanese flag with the words ‘Greater East Asian War’ written on it.”
Jim Masselos, The Great Empires of Asia (Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 2010), 214. At 950 168
A large, muscular man wearing a sleeveless top marked 'U.S. Navy' by a canon on a navy ship. The man is carrying two sacks in his hands, one dangling a tag that reads 'war without mercy on a treacherous foe'. The canon is aiming at the Japanese archipelago beyond Hawaii, under the imperial rising sun flag marked with a black skull.
John Dower, War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War (London: Faber, 1986), 181. At 940.5426 58

The cartoon by the Chicago Tribune’s Carey Orr was published three days after the Attack on Pearl Harbor as an unequivocal reminder of how the surprise attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet became an indelible symbol of Japan’s inherent treachery, and inspired an immediate commitment to a ‘war without mercy’.

The above representations of the Allied forces are visually contrasting, with Japanese cartoon presenting the stereotypical obese and grumpy White-man, emphasising John Bull’s corpulence in comparison to the starving Indians positioned on the lower-left corner, while American cartoon is depicting a heroic, strong, and determined navy personnel.

The Japanese Empire did not only manipulate visual imagery to rouse collective antipathy toward the enemy, but also published cartoons to caution the public against the Western influence, particularly the individualistic and materialistic orientations.

A black-and-white drawing of a woman wearing a skirt and a short-sleeve top bending her torso forward combing out dandruff over a sheet of paper. The caption on the right reads: “Get rid of that dandruff encrusting your head!”. The scurf being combed out is identified as "extravagance, selfishness, hedonism, liberalism, materialism, money worship, individualism, and Anglo-American ideas".
John Dower, War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War (London: Faber, 1986), 191. At 940.5426 58

This May 1942 cartoon from the government-sponsored magazine Manga is titled “Purging One’s Head of Anglo-Americanism,” with a caption, “Get rid of that dandruff encrusting your head!”. The scurf being combed out is identified as extravagance, selfishness, hedonism, liberalism, materialism, money worship, individualism, and Anglo-American ideas.


Photography

The fundamental quality of photography being a reflection of a moment in time, a photograph is commonly believed to bear a witness to history and preserve moments as the pictorial evidence of reality, objective and unbiased. The common misconception that disregards the intention and regulation of photographer allowed such quality of photography to be exploited in a systematic manner.  The photography was a convincing method of propaganda that exaggerated or fabricated reality to manipulate a viewer’s thoughts and emotions for an advantage. It was often used for the following strategies: bandwagon – the join-the-crowd technique that convinces a viewer to join the mass movement; inevitable-victory – that appeals the viewer her victory is assured; and euphoria – that promotes or fabricates an idealised vision of happiness and stability.

The below photographs are drawn from Japan Photo Almanac 2603 published by Domēi Tsushin-sha in 1943. Domēi Tushin was a news agency monopoly and a production of the Japanese government’s propaganda aimed to build foreign publicity; a sole voice through which government-approved lines and broadcasted news transmitted abroad in different languages. The Almanac was a celebratory annual record captioned in English and Japanese languages that traces victory throughout the war progression and offered skewed insights into colonisation and wartime assimilation, with coverage of amicable photographs.

The Almanac appeals to the reader that Japan has achieved its claimed objective to emancipate oppressed peoples of Asia under Western colonisation, and manifests political, cultural and linguistic assimilation is voluntary,  and for the betterment of Asia as a collective.

Please note that the titles enlisted for the photographs are strictly drawn from the publication.


About the curator: Dohui (Abigail) Kim is a Master of Art Curating student at the University of Sydney, interning at Rare Books & Special Collections. Dohui graduated from the Australian National University with a Bachelor of Art History and Curatorship in 2019 with double minor in Anthropology and Japanese Language.

Be our guest on PeerPod!

PeerPod imagery of recording studio

About two years ago, the Library’s Peer Learning Advisor (PLA) team were looking for a new way to reach out to students and help enhance their student life. As current postgraduate students, they felt they had a wealth of knowledge and experience to share, which could be a useful guide for all students looking to understand and make the most of university life.

Their answer: PeerPod – a bi-monthly podcast series in which the PLAs discuss topics and issues related to student life and share their own stories, experiences and advice.

Since its creation, PeerPod has covered all kinds of subjects, from how to start semester and make new friends, to bouncing back after failing an exam. We’ve heard stories from PLAs and advice from experts, but this year we’d like to add something more. We want students of all levels to join us in the recording studio and share their voices, opinions and experiences!

Do you have a unique insight into student life? Some handy advice that you want to share? Maybe a suggestion for a topic you’d like us to cover?

Email us at peerpod.pla@sydney.edu.au and let us know what topic you’d like to talk about as a guest speaker, and why!

Check out PeerPod on our website or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Find out more about the Peer Learning Advisor team and how we can support you.

ProQuest Studio: a new tool for text and data mining

ProQuest Visualization screenshot

The Library is pleased to announce access to the ProQuest Text and Data Mining Studio. The Studio enables researchers to mine and analyse ProQuest content, including current and historic national and international newspapers such as:

  • The Sydney Morning Herald
  • The Australian
  • The Australian Financial Review
  • The New York Times
  • The Guardian

The Studio has two interfaces: the Studio Workbench (access available on request) and Studio Visualizations (create an account online).

Through the Studio Workbench you can use R or Python to analyse up to two million documents, including newspapers, magazines, journals and books, via Jupyter Notebooks within the workbench. The Studio workbench is best suited to researchers wanting to conduct large scale analysis of texts. View current content available in ProQuest Studio Workbench and request access to the Studio Workbench by contacting library.digitalcollections@sydney.edu.au with the project details and email addresses of those who require access.

Using Studio Visualizations, you can analyse up to 10,000 documents from a subset of ProQuest’s content using pre-built text mining tools. Studio Visualizations is an evolving interface which currently provides access to a Geographic Analysis model. Further text analysis methods, including topic modelling, as well as access to more content, will be released throughout the year.

Using Studio Visualizations doesn’t require coding experience and is best suited to researchers and students new to text mining, or teaching staff wanting to introduce text mining to their students.

To start using Studio Visualisations, create an account online. If you’re new to text and data mining, use the Library’s Text and Data Mining guide to get started.

ProQuest Text and Data Mining Studio is a welcome addition to the Library’s text and data mining resources. For more information, refer to the Library website for:

The Sydney Informatics Hub also offers training on coding throughout the year.

Screenshot of a ProQuest Visualization showing publications by country

Overdue fines waived for the new year

Stack of books

To give you a fresh start in the new year, we’ll be waiving all overdue fines on Monday 11 January 2021.

To continue our support throughout the year, we’ll also be suspending overdue fines during 2021. From Monday 18 January 2021, we will no longer charge you for returning an overdue item. However, fines may still be charged on items borrowed from other institutions via Resource Sharing if they become overdue.

Read more about these changes to our fines and fees.

Help everyone get the most out of the Library by practising good library etiquette and always being considerate of others. When you borrow an item, please follow our updated borrowing terms and conditions so that everyone has access to our collections.

If you have any questions, please contact Mark Jamieson, Assistant Manager Site Services (mark.jamieson@sydney.edu.au) or Jeff Cruz, Associate Director Site Services (jeffery.cruz@sydney.edu.au).

Lockdown Discoveries – Part 3

Lockdown Discovery Exhibition

Lockdown Discoveries is an exhibition currently on display at Rare Books & Special Collections in Fisher Library. Due to COVID restrictions preventing access to some people, we’ve created a series of blog posts to ensure no-one misses out.

The Lockdown Discoveries exhibition presents highlights from the Ron Graham Science Fiction collection, handpicked and curated by the RBSC Cataloguing Project Team. This is Part 3, the final in our series of blogs about the exhibition. Read Part 1 or Part 2.


All paths lead back to Lovecraft

When H.P. Lovecraft died in 1937, his friends August Derleth and Donald Wandrei gathered Lovecraft’s best ‘weird fiction’ from pulp magazines into a memorial volume and tried to get it published. Publishers showed little interest, prompting the two to establish Arkham House in 1939, named after the fictional town in Lovecraft’s stories, and formed for the express purpose of publishing all of Lovecraft’s writings in hardcover.

Derleth wrote a number of stories based on fragments and notes left by Lovecraft, inventing the term ‘Cthulhu Mythos’ to describe the universe from the stories written by Lovecraft and other authors in his circle. Derleth’s style emphasised the struggle between good and evil, in contrast to Lovecraft’s depiction of an amoral universe. Arkham House continues to champion ‘weird fiction’ to this day.

Richard Taylor designed the covers for these volumes. An author in his own right, he is perhaps best known as a cartoonist for Playboy and the New Yorker, and his covers for Arkham House are among their best.

The Mask of Cthulhu book cover
The Mask of Cthulhu
August Derleth, 1958
Sauk City, Wisconsin: Arkham House
Graham SF 03050
The Trail of Cthulhu book cover
The Trail of Cthulhu
August Derleth, 1962
Sauk City, Wisconsin: Arkham House
Graham SF 03055
The Shuttered Room book cover
The Shuttered Room & Other Pieces
H.P. Lovecraft (& Divers Hands), 1959
Sauk City, Wisconsin: Arkham House
Graham SF 03101
Marginalia book internal pages
Marginalia
H.P. Lovecraft, 1944
Sauk City, Wisconsin: Arkham House
Graham SF 03088

Shadow over Innsmouth was the only book Lovecraft published in his lifetime and he was far from happy about the print quality. He died a year later.

Shadow Over Innsmouth book cover
Shadow over Innsmouth
H.P. Lovecraft, 1936
Illustrated by Frank A. Utpatel
Pennsylvania: Visionary Publishing Co.
Graham SF 01140

In his works, Lovecraft makes reference to The Necronomicon, a book written in Duriac script. While we don’t anticipate anyone visiting this exhibition being able to interpret the script, we have been advised not to show you the internal pages for your own safety. In the preface, L. Sprague de Camp writes:

“So, if any reader be so rash as to undertake the translation anew, let me urge that he have a care not to move his lips or mutter as he does so. We have all, I am sure, been annoyed in libraries by people who mumble as they read; but never before has this petty offense been punished by the fates that befell Doctors Babil, ibn-Yahya and Abdalmajid.”

L. Sprague de Camp, in the preface to the Necronomicon

You have been warned.

Necronomicon inside front cover
Al Azif (The Necronomicon)
Abdul Alhazred, 1973
Philadelphia: Owlswick Press
Graham SF 06829

Fantome Press

Founded in Warren, Ohio in 1976 by artist, printer and publisher C.M. James, the Fantome Press specialised in small, fine letterpress reprints of fantasy, supernatural and horror poetry. Featuring works by various authors, including James himself, these booklets were typically limited to between 50 and 75 copies and often featured James’ beautiful woodcuts.

The woodcuts are made by carving out negative space from a surface, leaving only the lines and shapes desired to appear in the print.

Next, the remaining surface is coated with ink and the block is placed on a piece of paper. In this case, the print is created by placing pressure on the back of the block with a printing press, transferring the ink onto the page. The result is a unique print, that can never be duplicated exactly.

Reprinted here is one of the sonnet sequences from supernatural horror writer H. P. Lovecraft’s Fungi from Yuggoth. It tells the story of a person who obtains an ancient book of esoteric knowledge that allows one to travel to other planets and strange parts of the universe. In Antarktos, a ‘great bird’ tells the narrator of a mountain in a polar region that might hold an untold city buried underneath.

Antarktos internal pages
Antarktos
H.P. Lovecraft, 1977
Illustrated by C.M. James
Warren, Ohio: Fantome Press
Graham SF 08891

Coleridge was fascinated by the supernatural and metaphysics. He believed in the spirit as the true essence of a person, not the physical form. Here he is describing Sara Hutchinson, with whom he was infatuated, as she appeared to him in a dream. From his description it seems Coleridge believed he actually crossed a threshold while in the dream state and met with Sara’s spirit.

Phantom internal pages
Phantom
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1976
Illustrated by C.M. James
Warren, Ohio: Fantome Press
Graham SF 09630

Moone’s ode to Howard Phillips Lovecraft is accompanied here by a portrait rendered by James. Lovecraft is commonly regarded as one of the most influential American horror writers of all time. He helped invent the genre of cosmic horror, which is the idea that the universe is an alien and dangerous place, incomprehensible to most sane people. His stories often feature protagonists who encounter horrible beings from outside our world, resulting in horror, insanity, and death.

To HPL internal pages
To H.P.L.
Schuyler Moone, 1977
Illustrated by C.M. James
Warren, Ohio: Fantome Press
Graham SF 09684

Translated as Faces of Death, this is a collection of macabre figures and ominous landscapes rendered in woodcut by James.

Faces de la Mort pages
Et Faces de la Mort: blockprints
C.M. James, 1977
Warren, Ohio: Fantome Press
Graham SF 08536

Ghostly images

How would you create an image of a ghost? It became a popular novelty in Victorian times. By using a blank page and an ink pen, one would sign their name along the middle of the page. The page was then folded so that the wet ink created a ghostly pattern.

The Ghosts of My Friends is an unusual autograph album arranged by Cecil Henland, an author who wrote a number of novelty books for children and founded the National Society of Day Nurseries in 1906.

The book was circulated to the owner’s friends to sign and complete, quite similar to the ‘Ad libs’ game. The signatures and ghosts which appear in this copy were collected between December 1926 and April 1931, and feature English surnames such as Ward, Gross, Cox and Thomas.

The Ghosts of My Friends book cover
The Ghosts of My Friends
Arranged by Cecil Henland, 1905
London: Dow and Lester
Graham SF 10930
Ghost of My Friends inside front cover
Internal pages from The Ghosts of My Friends

Crossing genres

Not all science fiction authors write exclusively in the science fiction genre. Poul Anderson (1926-2001) was a famous American author who published in the genres of science fiction, fantasy and historical fiction, winning many awards. Anderson won the Hugo Award seven times, the Nebula three times, the Prometheus Award four times, as well as receiving the Gandalf and SFWA Grand Master awards in 1998.

When he was a Guest of Honour at Boskone III in 1976 (organised by the New England Science Fiction Association), Anderson authored a collection of unusual writings. Published as Homebrew, the initial print run was 500 copies. The Graham collection has copy numbers 432 and 460, both signed by the author. Homebrew contains essays, poems, lyrics, articles, and the short story, House Rule.

Homebrew book cover
Homebrew
Poul Anderson, 1976
Cambridge, Massachusetts: NESFA Press
Graham SF 06879

Lockdown Discoveries was curated by the Rare Book & Special Collections Cataloguing Project Team: Vicky Chiu, Simon Cooper, Tonia Fossey, Chingmy Lam, Hiyori Ogawa, Phuong Pham, Liz Ray, Theresia Sandjaja, Dannielle Williams & some other guy.

Lockdown Discoveries team
The RBSC Cataloguing Project Team

This is Part 3 in a three-part blog series. Read Part 1 or Part 2 or learn more about the Lockdown Discoveries exhibition generally.

The Lockdown Discoveries exhibition is located at:
Rare Books & Special Collections
Open: Monday to Friday, 11am to 3pm
Phone: +61 2 9351 2992
Email: rarebook.library@sydney.edu.au

The secret stories of bookplates

Japanese bookplates

The University of Sydney Library’s Rare Books & Special Collections is pleased to bring you a new exhibition: a collection of bookplates drawn from the Colin Berckelman Personal Papers Collection. The physical display can be found on Level 4, Fisher Library, but you can also view the exhibition online, in the post below.


‘The Beautiful, Artistic, and Quaint’: International Connectivity and 20th Century Bookplates

Curated by Finlay MacKenzie, Master of Museum and Heritage Studies, University of Sydney


From 14th century BCE Egypt onwards, people have marked books as their own by furnishing them with bookplates, or decorative labels. While the use of bookplates fell in and out of fashion over subsequent centuries, the peak of bookplate production and ownership in the early- to mid-20th century saw these ‘beautiful, artistic, and quaint’ items reach an unprecedented level of popularity and accessibility. Along with this rise in prominence came the practice of collecting and exchanging bookplates belonging to others, reflecting an ever more globalised and connected world. Societies were formed, exhibitions held, and global exchange networks established as people traded duplicate bookplates in their own collections for more elusive or desirable designs.

The Berckelman Collection, amassed by the Sydney-based bibliophile Colin Berckelman from the early 1900s until his death in the 1960s, gives a rich glimpse into the lively world of bookplate collection in the early- to mid-20th century. As an active collector and member of several Australian and international bookplate societies, Colin Berckelman gathered bookplates from across the world through correspondence and travel. The variety of bookplates he collected and the stories they brought with them speak to the level of international communication and connection which existed at this time, and Australia’s position within a global network of artists, collectors, and book-lovers.

Bookplates in Australia

The emerging international craze for bookplate production, use, and collection in the early 20th century quickly reached Australia. Numerous local, regional, and national bookplate societies were established, and the work of Australian bookplate designers was sought not only by Australian collectors but by bookplate enthusiasts overseas. The surviving material paints a picture of a thriving and colourful world of collecting which established itself in bookstores, meeting-rooms, and mailing lists.

Bookplate printed on paper, showing a pair of magpies and labelled ‘Colin B. Berckelman’ and ‘Ex Libris’. The design is dated to 1930 and attributed to the Australian artist Sydney Long.
Berckelman Collection Item 1004 | 1930 | Sydney Long

Like many collectors of books and bookplates, Colin Berckelman made use of several personal bookplate designs throughout his life, employing them at different times or for different literary genres. This design, created in 1930, may have been a favourite of his, as he appears to have used and reproduced it extensively, and likely sent copies to other collectors both within and outside Australia.

Pamphlet discussing the rise in popularity of bookplates in Australia, by P. Neville Barnett for the Australian Ex Libris Society.
Berckelman Collection Item 1006 | date unknown | P. Neville Barnett

This early- to mid-20th century pamphlet by P. Neville Barnett, a noted Australian author on the subject of bookplates, describes the shift of bookplate artistry in the late 19th to early 20th centuries. As acceptable imagery began to extend beyond heraldic designs, he describes the ‘beautiful, artistic, and quaint’ bookplate designs of the period as responsible for their greater accessibility, and hence their increased popularity. He attributes the popularity of bookplates in Australia to the high quality of Australian bookplate artists, many of whom were women. Notably, he observes that Australian bookplate societies attracted members not only from Australia and New Zealand but from around the world.

Letter from Herbert Wauthier to the Sydney Bookplate society, describing his position as the managing director of a prominent London metalworking company and his interest in exchanging bookplates with Australian collectors.
Berckelman Collection Item 1007 | 1949 | Herbert Wauthier

This letter, written by the managing director of a London metalworking company to the Sydney Bookplate Society, illustrates the appeal which Australian bookplate-collecting circles held for international bookplate enthusiasts. In the letter, Herbert Wauthier describes his expectation of exchanging high-quality bookplates with Australian collectors, and offers to produce bookplate designs in exchange for membership. His letter also illustrates the difficulties which could be experienced in international communication during this period – he expresses a concern that he may not be able to pay his membership fee due to currency regulations!

International bookplates in Australia

Through personal correspondence and society membership, large numbers of bookplates produced internationally were sent to Australia. Colin Berckelman received many such bookplates through various means, whether from bookplate enthusiasts overseas or from other Australians who had collected them. The variety of designs show the increased freedom of acceptable bookplate imagery, and the ways in which bookplates could be adapted to reflect local tastes. Furthermore, the correspondence which accompanied these bookplates demonstrates the enthusiasm for people in the early- to mid-20th century to establish international connections and exchange networks.

Collection of bookplates sent to Colin Berckelman, two with inscriptions in the Russian alphabet, one with an English inscription, and one possibly with a Czech inscription.
Berckelman Collection Item 699 | date unknown | creator unknown

Although the provenance of bookplates in Colin Berckelman’s collection is not always recorded, the diversity of names and scripts suggests their places of origin. It is unknown whether this group was collated by an international or an Australian collector. However, an assemblage of bookplates like these shows how bookplates from various sources could be distributed together, increasing the reach of international exchange.

Scrapbook decorated with Japanese text and designs, containing numerous Japanese-style bookplates.
Berckelman Collection Item 674 | date unknown | creator unknown

Whilst most of Colin Berckelman’s bookplate collection originated from Australia, America, or Europe, some examples also illustrate the presence of bookplate production and exchange in Asia. The Japanese bookplates in this scrapbook show the adaptation of the bookplate format according to local Japanese aesthetics and artistic styles. Whether they were acquired through correspondence or during a visit to Japan, these bookplates highlight the breadth of bookplate-collecting networks, and the ability of such simple items to bring together people from across the world.

Exhibition catalogue for the Bookplate Association International’s sixth annual exhibition, 1930, containing lists of bookplate designers organised by country and a list of prize-winning designs.
Berckelman Collection Item 646 | 1930 | creator unknown

Bookplate exhibitions were relatively common in the early- to mid-20th century, with bookplates from various artists, owners, or collectors being brought together for display. This catalogue is from an exhibition held in Los Angeles, which displayed the work of bookplate artists from various countries. Represented countries were primarily located in Europe or were European colonies, such as Italy, Java, Latvia, and the Netherlands. In accordance with this, Australian bookplates were featured in the exhibition, with bookplates by famous Australian bookplate artists being displayed.

Sending bookplates overseas

Bookplate collectors seeking to expand their own collections and exchange bookplates with others often turned to the mailing lists of bookplate societies, where members could list their details and addresses in the hopes of receiving correspondence. Colin Berckelman’s collection includes a large number of letters and attached bookplates sent to him by fellow international collectors, many of whom located him through such mailing lists. These letters show the range of his personal correspondence, and the diversity of people who could be connected through the practice of bookplate collecting.

Letter from Gertrude Morgan Hawley to Colin Berckelman describing her interest in modern woodcuts and stating that she has enclosed a copy of her own bookplate design and is seeking Australian bookplates in return.
Berckelman Collection Item 702 | 1930 | Gertrude Morgan Hawley

Women were involved not only in the creation of bookplate designs, but also in the collecting and exchange of bookplates themselves. The owner of this bookplate, Miss Gertrude Morgan Hawley of New York, discovered Colin Berckelman through an exchange list of bookplate collectors, and wrote to him requesting examples of Australian woodcut designs. Her references to the artists Adrian Feint and Lionel Lindsay indicate the regard with which some Australian artists were held in bookplate-collecting circles internationally.

Collection of bookplates sent to Colin Berckelman by Manuel A. Ortiz, originating from Portugal. Two belonged to Ortiz himself, and one originated from another collector.
Berckelman Collection Item 701 | 1932/1933 | Manuel A. Ortiz

A bookplate collector from Lisbon, Manuel A. Ortiz, sent these bookplates to Colin Berckelman alongside a letter addressed to the American Society of Bookplate Collectors and Designers and the Australian ExLibris Society. In the letter, he describes his interest in bookplates from the United States, and asks the recipient to send him American bookplates in return for the Portuguese bookplates he has attached. While he does not seem to have been acquainted with either society before writing this letter, they presumably seemed to him to be accessible sources of bookplates, indicating the significance of Australian bookplate collectors in international exchange.

Bookplates with Czech inscriptions and pre-written letter with a message in Czech, German, French, English, and Esperanto, and some unfilled passages completed.
Berckelman Collection Item 701 | date unknown | creator unknown

In some cases, bookplate collectors looking to exchange bookplates with collectors from other countries encountered language barriers. When this occurred, pre-written letters in an established format could be used to communicate requests, with space for the sender to write in how many bookplates they were sending or wished to receive. This example, sent to Colin Berckelman by the Czechoslovakian bookplate designer and collector Ctibor Šťastný, delivers its message not only in the standard languages of German, French, and English, but also in Czech and the constructed international language Esperanto. It accompanied a selection of Czech bookplates designed either for or by Šťastný, with their varying designs including an owl in an art deco style, a relatively standard depiction of books and a candle, and a praying mantis with a Portuguese slogan.

In the modern world of rapid and extensive interconnectivity, it is easy to imagine the world of the past as slower-paced and far less open. However, the picture painted by Colin Berckelman’s bookplate collection is vastly different. Despite the issues of language barriers or currency restrictions which could arise, communities such as bookplate collectors found ways of corresponding and sharing their interest, whether through travel to attend international exhibitions, writing to collectors in other countries, or simply obtaining internationally-produced bookplates from collectors closer to home. It is perhaps surprising that such a small and incongruous object as a bookplate should have attracted so much attention from so many people. But bookplates could easily be viewed as emblematic of a new and modern world in the early- to mid-20th century – a world which brought together people from across the globe in a shared enthusiasm for the ‘beautiful, artistic, and quaint’.

All material in this online exhibition is drawn from the Colin Berckelman Personal Papers Collection. Colin Blake Berckelman (1907-1965) was an Australian bibliophile, author, amateur photographer, and collector of material relating to books, bookplates, and printing material. The collection encompasses a broad ranger of topics, particularly relating to Australian social history, including politics, business and commerce, early settlement history, architecture, literature, and the arts. Following Berckelman’s death in 1965, the collection was acquired by the University of Sydney Library. It is now held by the University of Sydney Library’s Rare Books and Special Collections. The physical display of this exhibition can be found on Level 4, Fisher Library.