Frontiers of Science Fiction: curator’s note

Featured image from Frontiers of Science

Frontiers of Science Fiction is a Rare Books & Special Collections exhibition that features works from both The Frontiers of Science strips and our science fiction collections. It is on display in the Level 2 Exhibition Space in Fisher Library.


Excerpt from Frontiers of Science strip number 035 showing machinery such as robots and rockets, with text that reads "Science today conceives a time when electronic super-intelligences would prove so much more efficient than humans, that they might take over the earth..."
Frontiers of Science 035

Frontiers of Science was a groundbreaking Australian syndicated newspaper comic strip published internationally between 1962 and 1980 and created here at the University of Sydney. Its aim was to disseminate scientific knowledge in an easily comprehensible way during the height of the Cold War between Russia and America, to a public fascinated with, and indeed enmeshed in, the scientific and technological rivalry between the two world blocks. The “space race” was inextricably tied to the “arms race” and defined the era from 1945 till 1990.

The original Frontiers of Science strips ran from 1961 and were significant as a means of communicating and popularising science. The series was produced and distributed by Press Feature Service, and co-written by Professor Stuart Butler from the School of Physics at the University of Sydney, and journalist and film-maker Bob Raymond. Early artwork in the series was by Andrea Bresciani; it was continued later by David Emerson.

Four black-and-white photographs, each portraying one of the four creators of the Frontiers of Science.
Photographs of the four creators of the Frontiers of Science strips, from left: Professor Butler, Bob Raymond (behind a movie camera), Andrea Bresciani and David Emerson

The Library’s Rare Books and Special Collections holds the archive of these strips, and the physical copies of the original paper ‘pulls’ – five days of strips that could be sent to the newspapers around the world for publication.

Rare Books and Special Collections also has several science fiction collections donated and acquired over the years, including the Steele, Graham and General Science Fiction collections. These form a comprehensive survey of 20th century speculative science writing. 

The exhibition Frontiers of Science Fiction is an attempt to find the intersection of science fiction writing and science by juxtaposing the Frontiers of Science with these myriad SF books. In doing this, it is hoped that a kind of imaginative tableau of ideas in the 20th century, the popular scientific imagination, and the current state of scientific ideas (via QR code links to online content) will inspire interest, thought, and imagination.

The exhibition is arranged in themes broadly defined by the literature as an easily accessible and populist point of contact. Themes include ‘The Moon’, ‘Relativistic Travel’, ‘Rockets’, ‘Cryonics’, ‘Robots’ and ‘Plagues from Space’. It includes original Frontiers of Science sheets next to the books, with QR codes linking to the contemporary science for the theme.

Here is a brief taster of a few of the themes:

Life in the Computer Age 

This Frontiers of Science piece from 1965, probably of all the collection, encompasses more accurate predictions in one edition than all the others, and in some ways has the most relevance to the lives we lead today. It also highlights how difficult it is to predict what may happen in the future.

Tim Berners-Lee, the initiator of what became the worldwide web in 1991, envisaged something entirely different to the system that we have today. He certainly expected something which would democratise information and its transmission, but by his own admission, he never foresaw the leverage that vast commercial interests now exert upon all of us using the internet.

The comic strip Frontiers of Science number 178 showing a man with a wired remote control scrolling through some text on a small, 1960’s style television screen in his living room. He is perched on an easy chair and smoking a pipe.
Frontiers of Science, number 178

This single panel from the Frontiers of Science strip 178 (11/02/1965) is concerned with the way that information from all libraries will be available in your living room. It is not too far off in terms of the internet at least, and more specifically e-books in the modern academic library.

The hierarchical notions of information access prevalent at the time are predicted to remain intact in this vision, and libraries are named as the big player in information technology. The fullness of time has proven libraries have become in some ways marginalised as they are no longer the only receptacles of knowledge. The reality has been an atomisation of information via internet and its social media, which over 30 years have slowly and increasingly become concentrated in the hands of the tech giants that hold most power: Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook; companies that recently faced congressional hearings on their monopolies.

This Frontiers of Science pull has a lot of other ideas too:

  • The need for a more human interaction language for interface, which came true in Basic then language interfaces via the QWERTY keyboard
Comic strip Frontiers of Science 178 showing a woman at a QWERTY keyboard tape -punching device. Second panel has a woman at a large computer terminal with reel-to-reel tape. Text says: “Methods are now being devised to enable computers to read printed or even hand-written material.” Third panel shows a man at a desk holding a microphone and reading from a paper script in front of another large bank of computers. The text says: “Computer ability to analyse and obey voice commands is also close to achievement.”
Frontiers of Science, number 178
  • The extension of this to voice command (Siri and Alexa)
  • Prediction of extra leisure hours because of the alleviation of drudge jobs
  • Phone calls or communication to computers automating the product supply chain end to end
  • Radar speed traps and centralised government revenue collection- taxation boon
  • Instantaneous translation
  • The paperless office

Looking only at voice command, we could take the example of Siri:

Apple’s proprietary voice recognition and response software, native to billions of devices worldwide in homes, offices and pockets, has a dark 1970s precedent in Dean R Koontz’s novel Demon Seed (featured in the exhibition).

In this book, Siri (or Google Hub or Apple Home) are presaged in heroine Susan Harris’s home security system: an AI which becomes obsessed with her, ultimately attempting to own her mind and body via the powerful control it exerts.

Cover image of Dean R. Koontz's book Demon Seed, featuring a woman looking behind over her shoulder plugged in to a large machine through multiple cords
Rare Books & Special Collections SF K822 J2 1

Frontiers of Science 026, entitled ‘The Giant Leap’ deals with contacting other intelligences and crosses over thematically with some notable books in the SF genre.

Frontiers of Science 026 showing a profile of a man looking heavenward and text reading “Assuming the existence of highly advanced beings on other planets, argues Professor Bracewell, why not use their knowledge to jump ahead of ourselves and complete our understanding of the universe?”
Frontiers of Science 026

Many of the books in the exhibition are concerned with the details of alien contact but a few of them delve more deeply to speculate on the existential and conceptual problems humans face in such contact.

Arcady and Boris Strugatsky’s expert exploration of alien contact and its implications is called Roadside Picnic (1971). In this book, the remains of an alien visit to Earth create a restricted zone where artifacts left behind have unfathomable powers, and some people – “stalkers” – come to claim some of these objects for their mysterious effects, at great personal risk.

The titular metaphor relates to this: what would the remains of a roadside picnic look like to the animals of the forest? The book implies that our meagre understanding makes us the animals in this scenario, in the face of an intelligence too advanced to fathom.

In The Listeners by James E Gunn (1972), the message received from the vast reaches of space divides humanity and causes untold tumult.

In our copy on display, the cover features an image of the Arecibo Message. This radio transmission was sent to a cluster of stars 25,000 light years away to demonstrate the power of the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico in 1974. It is a three-minute message of exactly 1,679 binary digits – which, if arranged in a specific way, can explain basic information about humanity and earth to extra-terrestrial beings. It has as yet only travelled a small fraction of the distance to its destination.

The asteroid, which flew safely past Earth on 22 December 2018 (Nasa)
Arecibo Message; the asteroid that flew past Earth on 22 December 2018
 (NASA)

Relativistic travel 

Einstein’s theory of general relativity has in recent times become affirmed as a correct model of the universe at the macro level. The collision of two black holes and the detection of the gravity waves that emanated from this event happened via CalTech’s LIGO observatory in 2016. The new LIGO discovery is the first observation of gravitational waves themselves, made by measuring the tiny disturbances the waves make to space and time as they pass through the earth.

In Frontiers of Science 435, part 2 of the strip concerns itself with explaining Einstein’s idea of gravity waves but notes that scientists at the time considered them impossible to measure.

  

Comic strip Frontiers of Science 435 showing a boy observing ripples in a pond and the face of Albert Einstein, A caption reads “Einstein’s general theory of relativity, formulated in 1916, said that gravitational fields around bodies in space, if disturbed, should also produce waves- of gravity”
Frontiers of Science 435

Einstein’s later theory of special relativity deals with what happens to bodies approaching the speed of light. Frontiers of Science 636 from 1973 illustrates this well, and the Library’s science fiction collections represent this in a number of well-known books.

Frontiers of Science comic strip 636 part 3 includes a picture of an astronaut greeting an older man, with onlooker. The caption says: “This is why a future traveller could return to Earth from a long space journey a younger man than his twin, who stayed on earth.”
Frontiers of Science 636

In Poul Anderson’s book Tau Zero (1970), 50 space travellers are compelled to continue accelerating to near light speeds after miscalculating planetfall. Ultimately, relativity as per Einstein’s model mean they can witness the end of the universe, its rebirth and make a new planetfall in an entirely new cosmos.

Similarly, Joe Haldeman’s book, The Forever War, has a decidedly 1970s twist on relativistic interstellar travel. In his novel, the effect of time dilation between the earth and the travellers going off to wage war against an implacable and virtually unintelligible enemy means the returned soldiers are perpetually at odds with the Earth they come home to after decades of Earth time. Haldeman’s own experiences as a returned Vietnam veteran colour this tale of an Earth (read America) that has upturned the values that drafted him.

All the wonderful covers of the books chosen for display are not possible to show here but traverse the breadth of artistic expression for the genre over the years and should not be missed. We hope to see you at the exhibition.


About the curator: Mark Sanfilippo is the Library’s Learning Spaces Officer. He has worked in the museums and galleries sector, notably at the Art Gallery of New South Wales and Sydney’s Living Museums. He practises and has an interest in art, design and visual communication, and has an addiction to art supplies and rickety musical instruments. His approach to science is that of a fascinated layperson. He is an advocate of the possibilities of the imagination in interdisciplinary approaches, particularly when applied to the sciences. This is his first solo curated exhibition.

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.

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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.

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.

Lockdown Discoveries – part 1

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 1 of our blog about the exhibition. Read Part 2 and Part 3.

Ron Graham’s collection

Ronald E. Graham collected science fiction for more than 50 years and his collection contains almost complete holdings (up to 1979) of commercially published American, English and Australian science fiction magazines.

Graham had encyclopaedic knowledge of early science fiction; he was the publisher of Vision of Tomorrow magazine and the co-owner of the first science fiction bookshop in Australia, Space Age Books (originally named The Space Age Bookshop), until his death in 1979. Fisher Library is very fortunate to be the custodian of Graham’s extensive private library.

Read more about the Ron Graham Science Fiction collection.

Inscriptions

Mass printed books can occasionally become valuable when a copy is inscribed by the author or perhaps a famous owner. Attributes such as autographs, inscriptions, bookplates and decorations may provide insight into the life, friendships and personality of authors. Take for example, the inscriptions written by the author, Ben Bova, to the science fiction enthusiast, Ron Graham. There are more than 40 Ben Bova books in Graham’s collection, many of them signed with a personal message. It is gratifying to observe how friendships develop between an author and a fan.

Front cover and inscription of Flight of Exiles by Ben Bova.
Flight of Exiles
Ben Bova, 1972
New York: Dutton
Graham SF 7168
Front cover and inscription of Exiled from earth by Ben Bova
Exiled from Earth
Ben Bova, 1971
New York: Dutton
Graham SF 07167
Front cover and inscription of Escapre by Ben Bova
Escape!
Ben Bova, 1970
New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston
Graham SF 05440
Book cover of The Duelling Machine
The Duelling Machine
Ben Bova, 1969
New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston
Graham SF 07165
Book cover of The Weathermakers
The Weathermakers
Ben Bova, 1968
New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston
Graham SF 07176

Discover more inscriptions

There may be more hidden inscriptions in books ready to be discovered. You can find books with unique attributes in the collection by using Advanced search in the Library’s catalogue. Enter the call number Graham SF and the keyword inscribed (or bookplate, depending on your interest). This search will retrieve a list of titles that have these attributes.

Screenshot of Advanced Search

Bookplates

A bookplate, also known as ex-librīs (Latin for ‘from the books or library’), is a printed or decorative label inserted into a book, usually on the front endpaper to indicate the name of the book’s owner.

What fascinated me while cataloguing the Graham SF collection were the bookplates. I adored the artistic designs, some simple and others with amazing detail. The thought that the item once belonged to a certain person, made me wonder about the history of the book. How it was housed? In a large personal library or in a box sitting in the basement? Did it travel around before it landed in Ron Graham’s collection?

Often, bookplates reflect the owner’s position in society, or in this instance, their passion for science fiction.

Here is one of Ron Graham’s personal bookplates. The designer of the bookplate is not known.

Bookplate of Children of the Atom
Children of the Atom
Wilmar H. Shiras, 1954
London: Boardman
Graham SF 01028

Another bookplate for Ron Graham was designed by the artist, Virgil Finlay. Finlay was one of the most popular illustrators for pulp magazines, particularly Weird Tales and Famous Fantastic Mysteries. The bookplate illustration below was also used as the cover of the fanzine The Mentor, number 19.

Bookplate of Tom Swift and His Rocket Ship
Tom Swift and his Rocket Ship
Victor Appleton II; illustrated by Graham Kaye, 1954
New York: Grosset & Dunlap
Graham SF 01325

Not only is this bookplate aesthetically pleasing but it reveals that the books previously belonged to the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1916-1922). David Lloyd George was one of Britain’s most well-known figures of the 20th century, best known for guiding Britain through the First World War. Lloyd George had a personal library and part of that collection is now housed at the University of Kent.

Bookplate of Black Light
Black Light
Talbot Mundy, 1930
London: Hutchinson
Graham SF 09280

The bookplate below caught my attention as it has a ‘royal’ look to it. Sir William Gordon-Cumming 4th Baronet was a friend of Edward, Prince of Wales (later known as King Edward VII). Interestingly, Sir William Gordon-Cumming was involved in the great baccarat scandal of 1890 that ultimately changed the course of his life.

Bookplate of Sunrise Stories
Sunrise Stories: A Glance at the Literature of Japan
Roger Riordan & Tozo Takayanagi, 1896
London: K. Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co.
Graham SF 09555

Aside from Ron Graham’s bookplates, the bookplate I have seen most often is that of John Carnell. Carnell was a British editor, especially known for New Worlds (1946-64), New Writings (1964-75), and Science Fantasy (1951-64). John Carnell is known to his friends as either Ted or John which is evidenced in quite a few of the books in Ron Graham’s collection, with inscriptions from countless authors addressing him as Ted.

Bookplate in The World Aflame
World Aflame: The Russian-American War of 1950
Leonard Engel & Emanuel S. Piller, 1947
New York: Dial Press
Graham SF 07876

Great women of science fiction

In what has long been perceived as a male bastion, women have made their mark and continue to shape and challenge the limits of the science fiction genre. Let’s look at three of these amazing women and their contributions.

Andre Norton (1912–2005)

Andre Norton
Andre Norton

Andre Norton (Alice Mary Norton) was a female writer who chose to adopt a male pseudonym to compete in a predominantly male market. The first female Science Fiction Writers of America Grand Master challenged gender barriers introduced new ideas to the genre, and went on to become one of the most prolific science fiction writers of all time.

Aimed at a young adult audience, Norton blended the genres of science fiction and sword and sorcery in her highly successful Witch World saga. Spell of the Witch World, a collection of three short stories, provides a good introduction to the Witch World.

Book cover of Spell of the Witch World
Spell of the Witch World
Andre Norton, 1972
New York: DAW Books
Graham SF 17825

Ursula Le Guin (1929–2018)

Ursula Le Guin
Ursula Le Guin

Ursula Le Guin, one of the most influential writers the science fiction genre has ever known, was declared a Living Legend by the U.S. Library of Congress in 2000. Le Guin was strongly influenced by her interests in anthropology and feminism throughout a career that spanned almost 60 years.

In The Left Hand of Darkness, an envoy is sent to report on the inhabitants of an icy planet, only to find a people who have developed only one gender. This novel delves into the themes of sex and gender. One of the genre’s first feminist novels, and considered its most famous study of androgyny, this book led to a new progressive era in science fiction.

Book cover of The Left Hand of Darkness
The Left Hand of Darkness
Ursula Le Guin, 1969
New York: Ace Books
Graham SF 13916

Joanna Russ (1937–2011)

Joanna Russ
Joanna Russ

Joanna Russ was a true pioneer of feminist science fiction who believed the genre was a perfect platform for radical ideas. Written with an undertone of anger and wit, there can be no doubt of the focus on gender and sex in the more than 50 short stories and novels penned by this award-winning author.

The Female Man is the story of four women from parallel worlds. When they cross to each other’s worlds they explore and question the constraints of gender in their imaginary societies. Considered one of the most influential works in feminist literature, this novel will expand your notions of the science fiction genre.

Book cover of The Female Man
The Female Man
Joanna Russ, 1975
New York: Bantam Books
Graham SF 15501

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.

This is part 1 of a three-part blog series. Read Part 2 and Part 3 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

Cataloguing the Graham Science Fiction Collection

Library staff working with Rare Books & Special Collections are invited to blog about significant items and interesting discoveries. Here, Rare Books & Special Collections cataloguing assistant Simon Cooper writes about the Graham Science Fiction Collection.

During the Covid-19 period the Rare Books & Special Collections cataloguing team has been tackling, from home and using photos, the books in the Graham science fiction (SF) collection. The books number around 30,000. In addition, the collection includes large holdings of comics and magazines, serials or journals, all still to be catalogued online. 

(more…)

Crommelin Collection

Library staff working with Rare Books & Special Collections are invited to blog about significant items and interesting discoveries. When Theresia Sandjaja was cataloguing for Rare Books & Special Collections, she found an envelope addressed simply to “Miss M. Crommelin, Pearl Beach via Woy Woy”. Theresia tells the story of her find:



Working on the Crommelin Collection, I encountered the envelope pictured above without a full address. I supposed that she must have been a very prominent person during her time. Further research concluded that she was the first Post Mistress in Woy Woy (1906-1910)!

Minard Fannie Crommelin was born on 29 June 1881 at Aston station, near Bombala, New South Wales. Her experience working in the post office started as early as 12 when she assisted the postmistress at Burrawong. Minard continued learning at the Sydney Church of England Grammar School for Girls then worked as an assistant in the post office at Moss Vale. In 1906, she became the acting postmistress in Woy Woy, where she stayed until 1910. During the rest of her working life, she was relieving postmistress in over 150 towns. 

Minard Crommelin often explored local bushland for walks and picnics with friends. When visiting Pearl beach, near Woy Woy, she spotted a lyrebird for the first time, which encouraged her to retire there. Pearl Beach has the best of both worlds: tranquil bush, full of birds & crickets chirping, and a short walk to a gentle rolling wave beach.

At the end of her working life in the mid-1930s, Crommelin visited England, Ireland and Europe to learn about her family history. She was also active in many conservation and natural history societies and began purchasing antique furniture and rare books on Australia and its natural history. Books owned by her have a bookplate designed by Neave Parker (1910-1961), an English natural history artist. The bookplate contains the Crommelin arms with three merlettes and a chevron, and illustrations of the Australian bush with native animals such as koalas, a kangaroo, and a lyrebird.

After returning to Australia, Crommelin purchased around seven acres of land adjoining a sanctuary at Pearl Beach. She named the main residence and library “Warrah”, an Aboriginal word meaning “a wide view” or “seen from a long way”. In 1946, Crommelin gave the property along with all other assets to the University of Sydney, with the provision that she would still be able to stay and live there for the rest of her life. The original copy of the deed of gift is archived at Mitchell Library.

Her legacy still lives to present day. The University named the Crommelin Biological Research Station in her honour, which is now used by our visiting scholars. The books previously held in Warrah were transferred to Fisher Library’s Rare Books and Special Collections .

In addition to her invaluable contribution to the University of Sydney, Crommelin was also active in assisting local communities. Crommelin Place in Canberra, Crommelin Crescent in St Helens Park, NSW, and Crommelin Native Arboretum, Pearl Beach (shown below), are all named in her honour.


For more information on Minard Crommelin and Neave Parker:

Crommelin.org
Neave parker