THE WESTERN IDLER – Treasures from Melbourne

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  • Post published:September 13, 2010
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It was a great pleasure to see so many of you at the Annual Seminar in July.  I thought that the new format worked very well.  Many new faces were to be seen, including some younger people.  After such a momentous year, as was the 300th anniversary in 2009, I believe that we all need to make an extra effort to ensure that the enthusiasm generated over that 12 months is continued into the future.  Hopefully, by the time the next seminar rolls around, Elizabeth and I will be living in Victoria.  I hope to take a much more active part in the Society when we complete our move.

I combined my trip to Victoria for the seminar with some quite serious house hunting so that there was little time to visit the superb bookshops in Melbourne.  However, I did make time to visit Kay Craddock at her beautifully renovated shop at 156 Collins St, Melbourne.  Kay and her staff are obviously very relieved to be back in their old premises.

Whilst spectacular, the temporary premises were completely impractical and, I am sure, a nightmare to manage.  The newly renovated “old” shop is simply magnificent.  This is a bookshop which, for appearance and contents, can hold its own with any such, anywhere in the world.  It is a cultural treasure to which all true book lovers will be drawn again and again.

In addition to her large range of antiquarian, fine and second-hand books, Kay also stocks the output of Oak Knoll Press, which publishes much of its material in conjunction with The British Library.  Oak Knoll Press from New Castle in Delaware, U.S.A. is a division of Oak Knoll Books which must surely be the world’s premier dealer in “books-about-books”.  Oak Knoll Press concentrates on the same field publishing important books for the collector and all those interested in the book arts.

I purchased a copy of Donald Pearson’s Books as History/The Importance of Books Beyond Their Texts published by Oak Knoll Press in 2008.  This is a beautifully produced, very well illustrated quarto volume which has made me look again at many of the older books in my library checking for telltale signs of previous ownership.  I have written in this column, in the past, about my “sentimental” collecting.  This volume will be a great help to me in broadening my knowledge in this field.

I did find time also to visit Mr and Mrs Mick Stone at “Camberwell Second Hand Books & Collectables”.  This is a fertile hunting ground for me.  Amongst the half a dozen books that I purchased was “Book Binding and the Care of Books”, written by Douglas Cockerell and published by Pittman in “The Artistic Crafts Series”.

It is a reprint of the fourth edition (which was published in 1925 and was printed in 1939).  It bears a bookseller’s ticket as follows:

“Technical Book & Magazine Coy 297-299 Swanston St, opposite Melbourne Hospital, Melbourne C1.” The telephone number is given as Cen2041.

There is an interesting book plate tipped in showing that the book came from the library of Bert Lewis.  The illustration on the bookplate is that a styilised drawing of a bookbinder’s press superimposed over a book.  Does anyone know who Bert Lewis was?  He was obviously interested in book binding.

My major purchase over the last few months has been The Oxford Companion to the Book, published in two massive quarto volumes by Oxford University Press and comprising more than 1300 pages.  This most important work was edited by Michael Suarez S.J. and H.R. Woudhuysen.  Father Suarez is a very well known Johnsonian from the USA.  He was due to speak at the conference at Pembroke College, Oxford, last September but had to cancel at the last moment due to the severe illness of his father.

I have wanted to meet this scholar for many years but have not been able to do so.  I had hoped that last September would be the opportunity that I had long sought but was once again denied.  Both volumes are half bound in a rich burgundy leather, handsomely boxed and the books are blocked in gold.  A mine of information, the list of contributors and editors alone occupies 13 closely written pages in the introduction.  Not cheap at $450.00 but obviously selling well, a second printing is underway.  Reviewed by Norman Lebrecht in The Wall Street Journal recently, the last paragraph of that review deserves to be quoted in full:

“It is a fount of knowledge where the internet is but a slot machine.  It refreshes where Google merely sates.  We will always need books for depth of memory, the free association of random thoughts.  This dangerous two volume tome sits on my living room shelf, an irresistible distraction.”

I urge you to beg, borrow or steal this book.  If you can’t afford to buy a copy then insist that your local library purchase it so that you can have it for reference.  There is a life time’s reading here.  The ISBN is 978-0-19-860653-6.

I have just received the latest issue of the “Johnsonian Newsletter”. Published twice yearly in March and September, this is absolutely required reading for all Johnsonians.  In the latest issue there are contributions from Paul Tankard, our patron Gordon Turnbull, one of our newer members Tian Ming Cai and your Western Idler.  No dry academic journal, this publications tells you everything that is happening in the Johnsonian world and is beautifully published on good paper at the astoundingly cheap price of $12.00 ($US) per annum.  I am sure that some philanthropist is heavily subsiding the publication.

You can subscribe by writing to the Johnsonian Newsletter at 6 Prowitt St, Norwalk, CC O68551220.  The email address is  You may pay by Mastercard, Visa or Amex or the publisher will bill you.