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.

Echo 回声嘹亮: An exhibition on Chinese drama

For many centuries Chinese drama has enthralled all types of people. Drawing on the East Asian Collection of the University Library, this exhibition showcases rare books on the history of Chinese theatre.

The exhibition consists of three parts: the actor’s stagecraft in Chinese drama, the history of Chinese drama, and a comparative study between Chinese and Western drama. Familiarity with Chinese stage conventions is the key to appreciating Chinese drama. Understanding the historical roots of Chinese drama in comparison with Western drama provides new insights into the vicissitudes of theatrical studies.

Chinese drama continues to be a quintessential element of Chinese culture. The curtain of the stage is now raised!

Actor’s stagecraft


戏剧月刊Theatre Monthly  
刘豁公Liu Huogong, editor 
Shanghai : Xi ju yue kan she, 1928-1932 
Available at Fisher Library Rare Books & Special Collections EA 5651 4 A 

In Chinese drama, theatrical conventions made up of movement, costumes, face-painting and props all convey meaning in abstract ways.  

The fake beard is a distinctive part of the costume for many characters in Chinese drama. “Beard work” in Chinese drama refers to the skilful manipulation of the beard, tossing it in the air, grabbing it in a dramatic pose, and even flicking it outwards to indicate various emotions.  

horsewhip is a flexible cane with several tassels and a finder loop. It is used to indicate mounting, dismounting, riding and leading a horse.   

Flags are usually used to convey a battlefield scene. Four triangular flags are inserted on the back of the performer and it is used to exaggerate the heroic demeanour of the character.  

Pheasant tails are tools that the actor manipulates to express a wide range of emotions. The actors use two fingers on each hand to hold and bend the tails in various poses both in front of and behind themselves. They even clench the feathers in their teeth.  

Actors use long sleeves, long tresses and handkerchiefs to convey internal emotional states from joy to anger in order to punctuate a scene with dramatic action.  

The traditional Chinese opera stage is normally bare. A plain stage with only a table and two chairs can represent a courtroom, household, palace or even mountaintop.   

Cloud whisks are used primarily by supernatural beings like Taoist immortals and religious characters.   

Walking in circles means making a journey.  

The stagecraft of Chinese theatre is to suggest rather than to completely present. The suggestion is enough to evoke the entire reality. 

Curator’s note: 

Chinese drama is a genre capable of treating any topics in great depth – love, war, religious conversion, political struggles and criminal investigations to name a few. Famous plays include:   

  • The Injustice to Dou E by Guan Hanqing     
  • Autumn in the Han Palace by Ma Zhiyuan 
  • Regency of the Duke of Zhou by Zheng Guangzu  
  • Rain on the Paulownia Tree by Bai Pu  
  • The West Chamber by Wang Shifu 
  • The Peony Pavilion by Tang Xianzu 

Comparative studies of Western and Chinese drama 

The Orphan of Zhao赵氏孤儿

The Orphan of Zhao赵氏孤儿 was a play written by Ji Junxiang纪君祥in about 1330 AD. The play has revenge and retribution as its central themes. This piece was the first specimen of Chinese dramatic literature translated into a European language. There were five European adaptations in the 18th century: two in English, one in French, German, and Italian, respectively.   The play is founded on an event which occurred in the middle of the 7th century BC. A military leader is determined on exterminating the whole Zhao family. A faithful dependent of the family saves the life of the orphan by concealing him and passing off his own child in his stead. The orphan is brought up ignorant of his real descent until he reaches manhood. Once the truth is revealed, he seeks vengeance for the death of his family against the usurpers and ultimately recovers his birthright.  

L’orphelin de la Chine: tragédie 
Voltaire, 1755 
Available at Fisher Library Rare Books & Special Collections General French Plays 1018 

Voltaire adapted the play and he had it acted in the Comédie-Française in August 1755. Voltaire used the play as a didactic tale of morality and he called the play “the morals of Confucius in five acts.”  

The Orphan of China: A Tragedy 
Arthur Murphy; Du Halde, J.-B. (Jean-Baptiste), 1759 
Available at Fisher Library Rare Books & Special Collections General RB 4659.21 

Arthur Murphy had his adaptation produced at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane in April 1759. He includes a letter to Voltaire with suggestions to improve the play.  

Chen Shouyi states, “Each adaptation embodies some attempt at Europeanising the Chinese play. Particularly striking are the efforts made in observance of the Three Unities*. Both Voltaire and Murphy simplified the plot element and reduced the stage scenes. Voltaire embodied in the adaptation his admiration for ancient China, his confidence in the triumph of civilization over savagery. Murphy saw in it a fair chance for adapting and improving Voltaire.”[1]


Also see:

Studies in Chinese-Western Comparative Drama

Yun-Tong LUK  

Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, 1990 

Available at Fisher Library General 895.1 13  

Curator’s note:  

Comparative research is a research methodology in social sciences that aims to make comparisons across different countries or cultures. Can you think of other areas of comparative studies? 

History of Chinese drama 

A History of Chinese Drama

William Dolby

London: Paul Elek Books Limited, 1976

Available at Fisher Library General 792.0951 4

Dr. William Dolby (杜为廉) was a lecturer in the Department of East Asian Studies at the University of Edinburgh. As one of the foremost experts on Chinese language, culture and history, Dr. Dolby was a leading pioneer in Chinese theatrical studies and published A History of Chinese Drama in 1976. It was one of the first substantial works of Chinese theatrical history in western countries.

Curator’s question: 

Can you draw a timeline of Chinese theatrical developments using the table of contents?

Curator’s note:  

The cover image is originally from China Illustrated drawn by Thomas Allom who was a famous British illustrator for travel books in the 19th century. The image depicts a Chinese drama performance. Full volumes of China Illustrated can be found in the Rare Books Collections at the Fisher Library. 

China Illustrated  
Thomas Allom  
London: Fisher Son & Co., 1845 
Available at Rare Books & Special Collections General Dewey 915.1 206 

宋元戏曲史 Song Yuan Xiqu Shi (A History of Drama in the Song and Yuan Dynasties)
王国维 Wang Guowei
Taipei: Publications of Ancient Books, 1915
Available at Fisher Library East Asian General EA 5656 4

This book is considered as the first monograph of Chinese theatrical studies. Wang Guowei (王国维) is one of the most renowned intellectual luminaries of modern China.

According to Wang’s research:

  • The definition of Chinese drama must encompass “speech, action and singing in order to perform stories”.
  • Chinese drama originated from witchcraft performances and temple rituals.
  • Chinese drama matured in the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368 AD) and it embodied the value of “naturalness” which Wang considered as a universal standard for good literature.

Chinese drama is an indispensable part of Chinese folk culture. Rare books on folklore in the Song Dynasty (960–1279 AD) and the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368 AD) recorded some historical developments of Chinese drama.

南村辍耕录 Nan Cun Chuo Geng Lu 

陶宗仪Tao Zongyi  (1329–1410 AD) 

Beijing: Zhonghua Book Company, 1959 

Available at Fisher Library East Asian General EA 2700 3 

都城纪胜 Du Cheng Ji Sheng  

耐得翁 Nai Deweng (Song Dynasty) 

Taibei: Taiwan shang wu yin shu guan, 1979 

Available at Fisher Library East Asian General EA 9105 9 

There were amusement quarters known as瓦舍washe ‘tile booths’ in the Song Dynasty where 雜劇zaju ‘variety plays’ were performed.  

东京梦华录 Dong Jing Meng Hua Lu 

孟元老 Meng Yuanlao (Song Dynasty) 

Shanghai: Po ku chai, 1922 

Available at Fisher Library Rare Books & Special Collections, EA 9100 3 

Within瓦舍washe ‘tile booths’ were a number of棚 peng ‘awnings’ which could hold thousands of audience members.  

梦粱录 Meng Liang Lu 

吴自牧Wu Zimu (Song Dynasty) 

Zhejiang: Zhejiang Ren min Chu Ban She, 1980  

Available at Fisher Library East Asian General EA 2665.7 8 

Curator’s question: 

When you write academic essays, you need to provide primary and secondary sources to support your arguments. Are these books primary or secondary sources?  

About the Curator

Jenny Zhijun Yang graduated with a Master of Art Curating with distinction at the University of Sydney in 2018. She graduated from the University of Auckland with a Bachelor of Arts in history and Asian studies in 2017, and was awarded the Summer Research Scholarship of the University of Auckland. Jenny is currently a gallery assistant at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia and was previously a gallery assistant at the Auckland Art Gallery. She also works as a collection manager for a private collector. She co-curated the Giuseppe Castiglione Print Exhibition宫廷画师郎世宁)at the George Fraser Gallery in collaboration with the Auckland Art Gallery Foundation and the National Palace Museum of Taiwan in 2016. In 2018, she curated an exhibition on Thomas Allom, Perspectives of an outsider: Thomas Allom’s fascination with 19th century China with the University Library’s Rare Books and Special Collections, and gave a Rare Bites talk: Orientalism in Thomas Allom’ s engravings. Jenny has a Chinese heritage and her dream is to share Chinese civilization with others.  

___________________________________________________________________________

Exhibition details:

Fisher Library, level 3

From 29th August 2019

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[1] Chen Shouyi, “The Chinese Orphan: A Yuan Play – Its Influence on European Drama of the Eighteenth Century,” in The Vision of China in the English Literature of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries edited by Adrian Hsia, 1998, Hong Kong: Chinese University Press.

* Three Unities require a play to have a single action represented as occurring in a single place and within the course of a day. These principles were called unity of action, unity of place, and unity of time. 

Guided Exhibition Walk: Phyllis Kaberry and the Sepik

Phyllis Kaberry

The Phyllis Kaberry exhibition is on but we would like you to join us for a guided exhibition walk.

When: 4 July; 1 –1:45pm

Where: Fisher Library, level 3 and SciTech Library

Speakers: Dr Jude Philp, Senior Curator at University Museum and Nyree Morrison, Senior Archivist at University Archives

This guided walk will be conducted through the exhibition currently on display in the Fisher Library Level 3 and the SciTech Library. The exhibition was curated by anthropologist Diane Losche from the collections of Sydney’s Anthropology Department held by Rare Books and Special Collections, University Archives and the Macleay Museum. It focuses on Sydney anthropologist Phyllis Kaberry to commemorate the inscription of the Anthropological Field Research and Teaching Records, University of Sydney, 1926-1956 into the UNESCO Memory of the World Australian

Register here

More about Phyllis Kaberry and the Sepik:

In 1923 at a meeting of the international Pan-Pacific Congress at the University of Sydney the Australian government was urged to establish a Department of Anthropology and to fund urgent anthropological research in the region to counter the devastating effects of colonisation. The University of Sydney took up the challenge, instituting the first Department of Anthropology in the Australian-Pacific region with the appointment of AR Radcliffe Brown in 1926.

Many of the first generation of men and women who were taught at Sydney worked in isolation for periods of a year to eighteen months in areas where English was not spoken, in places not inscribed on maps, and with limited contact with people outside the community they were studying. For their work they were obliged to learn map making, linguistics and medical skills alongside their anthropological training.

The University’s Archives and Macleay Museum today look after the enormous wealth of information that these anthropologists produced from their interactions with Australian Aboriginal and Pacific peoples. For this exhibition we have focussed on the work of Phyllis Kaberry, the first female professional anthropologist to emerge from the Department.

This is a joint exhibition between Rare Books and Special Collections at the University of Sydney Library, University Archives and Museums to commemorate the inscription of the Anthropological Field Research and Teaching Records, University of Sydney, 1926-1956 into the UNESCO Memory of the World Australian Register.

The exhibition is being showcased on level 3 of Fisher and Sci Tech Libraries until August 2018.

Bright sparks: women in struggle

Where: Fisher Library level 3 and SciTech exhibition space

Our new exhibition Bright sparks: women in struggle features feminist authors from the Library’s East Asian Collection, to commemorate International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month.

We have chosen authors from three countries on which our East Asian Collection focuses, and selected important works written by them. All of them are/were fierce fighters for women’s liberation, whose activism and written works continue to inspire many around the world today.

Find more about our East Asian Collection at https://library.sydney.edu.au/collections/east-asian/

Exhibition: Striking Chords

music sheet

19/05/2016

Sounds and stories from the Rare Music collection

The image on the poster/postcard is from Raymond Hanson’s manuscript sketches for The Immortal Touch (c. 1970s). Raymond Hanson (1913-1976) was a composer and music educator who taught composition at the Conservatorium from the late 1940s until the 1970s.
Raymond Hanson’s manuscript sketches for The Immortal Touch (c. 1970s).

When: 19 May to 30 November 2016

Where: Fisher Library F03; Level 1; Rare Books & Special Collections Reading Room

This exhibition is a celebration of the University Library’s Rare Music collection, on the occasion of its relocation from the Conservatorium Library to Fisher Rare Books & Special Collections.

When the NSW State Conservatorium of Music was officially opened on 6 May 1915, its stated aims were “providing tuition of a standard at least equal to that of the leading European Conservatoriums”. It would seem logical then that the Rare Music collection of Australia’s first dedicated music education institution be concentrated around two main cultural waypoints: the European classical music tradition that the Conservatorium sought to transmit, and the Australian musical culture that developed from this foundation.

These two areas of strength provide natural entry points for exploring this varied and intriguing collection. They provide the framework for this exhibition, the aim of which is to showcase not only the objects themselves, but the continuation of their stories through ongoing scholarship and engagement.

#Sydney_library #RareBooks #RareMusic

Exhibition: Laugh Lines and Other Distractions

4/02/2016

Comics are a natural way to communicate. If you can draw a picture, you can tell a story.

By Julie Price

When: 8 February – 31 August 2016

Where: Fisher Library F03; Level 2 Exhibition spaceLaughLine-Poster-Final_sm

Everybody knows what a comic is. We’ve all read them, laughed at them and enjoyed them. A few well-chosen images can transport meaning across language barriers.

Threads of humour are teased from many situations: political circuses; the foibles of gender; even war, as soldiers entertaining themselves find domestic appreciation for larrikin humour. So many strands to spin a chuckle from be it an ocker, a Major, a gumnut, the Little Boy from Manly; all have made Australians laugh through the years. What was true throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries holds true now – any newspaper that wants to be taken seriously simply must run a cartoon or two.

Enquiries: Rare Books and Special Collections P: +(61) 2 9351 2992

#RareBooks #Humour #Sydney_library