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