Postcard From the Melbourne Rare Book Fair (and More)

Guest Post by Anthony Tedeschi

                                                                                                                                                From July 22-24, bibliophiles from across Australasia (and likely further afield) descended on the city of Melbourne, Australia, for the 44th ANZAAB Antiquarian Book Fair. As has been the case since 2012, the fair came hot on the heels of Melbourne Rare Book Week, which saw 45 free events held in libraries and other institutions across the city.

Screen Shot 2016-08-01 at 3.00.24 PM.pngUnfortunately, I was only able to attend the fair this year and so arrived in Australia on the final day of Rare Book Week. I did, however, manage to view the After Shakespeare exhibition in the University of Melbourne’s Baillieu Library, which brought together books, objects, and ephemera from the university and State Library of Victoria collections, as well as the collections of various Melbourne theatre companies, and the State Library of Victoria’s exhibitions on the 1916 Easter Rising and the works of the artist William Strutt (1825-1915). I was especially delighted, though, to have arrived in time to attend a fascinating talk on the private collection of Kerry Stokes, the collector who purchased the exquisite Rothschild Prayerbook from Christie’s, New York, in 2014. The talk was led by Erica Persak, who manages the Stokes collection, and Emeritus Professor Margaret Manion AO, who has studied many of Stokes’ medieval manuscripts and advises on acquisitions. Some of his recent purchases were on display in the Baillieu Library; the highlight being the 11-metre long Cronica cronicarum scroll printed on vellum in Paris by Jacques Ferrebouc in 1521.

The fair opened with a very convivial reception hosted by the Baillieu Library after which the doors to Wilson Hall were opened and the fair officially got underway. In all, thirty-one dealers from Australia, the US, and the UK exhibited. Like many fairs, there was something for everyone, books, photographs, manuscript material and prints, with items ranging from $10 to over $100,000. Indeed Douglas Stewart Fine Books took the prize for most expensive item: a very good run of early issues of Australia’s first newspaper, the Sydney Gazette & New South Wales Advertiser, spanning the years 1803 to 1828 and priced at AUD $575,000.

Craddock-shelves copy.jpgKay Craddock Antiquarian Booksellers, a Melbourne institution in business for over 50 years now, offered a fine selection of private press books, including a number of works by one of Australia’s most experimental presses: the Wayzgoose Press of Katoomba, New South Wales. Along with standard-sized monographs and broadsides (the latter priced at under AUD $1,000 each), two of the press’ most ambitious works of creative typography were available: Dada Kämpfen un Leben und Tod (AUD $12,000) and The Terrific Days of Summer (AUD $5,000), both printed in large concertina format measuring 26’ and 38’, respectively, when unfolded!

Burdon-ChineseMS.jpgMoving to books of a much more manageable format, Sally Burdon’s Asia Bookroom exhibited a wide variety of Japanese and Chinese works from fine calligraphic manuscripts to printed ephemera. Highlights for me were an album of fifty-one watercolors of Chinese life and customs, ca. 1920 (AUD $6,750) and an 1892 volume of color woodblock prints by artists from the Kyoto School (AUD $250). Asian material was on offer by Ursus Books, too, but the standout items for me were an exceptional copy of Trois dialogues de l’exercise de sauter et voltiger en l’air, Arcangelo Tuccaro’s illustrated work on acrobatics published in 1599 (USD $25,000) and the 1825 first edition of William Blake’s Illustrations of the Book of Job (USD $85,000).  

Cummins-Phillips copy.jpgBooks and manuscripts on voyaging and exploration are always highlights of the Melbourne fair. This year was no exception. Mark Tewfik of James Cummins, for example, showed me a beautifully hand-colored first edition of The Voyage of Governor Phillip to Botany Bay published in 1789 (AUD $67,500). In the next stall Hordern House offered a nice copy of the 1799 English edition of La Pérouse’s Voyage autour du monde (AUD $22,500) and the first German account of Cook’s first voyage published in 1772, which includes the earliest printed illustration of a Polynesian artifact in the form of a Māori kuru or earring (AUD $38,500). One stall further, Maggs Bros. included amongst its printed books a ca. 1790 wood and bone compass, sundial, and geographical clock with place names from Cook’s third voyage (AUD $4,373). At Berkelouw Books, any collector interested in the first book printed in Antarctica, the Aurora Australis, but whose pockets may not have been deep enough for an original, could have picked up a very good facsimile edition for AUD $1,000.

Stopping by the fair on the final day to say a few farewells, more than one dealer commented on what a congenial and successful time it had been. While I did not make any purchases for myself I did acquire two items for my employer, the National Library of New Zealand, namely the large concertina books printed by the Wayzgoose Press. Perhaps my decision was influenced by seeing the 1521 Cronica scroll earlier in the day.

Here’s looking forward to Melbourne 2017.

Anthony Tedeschi is Curator Rare Books & Fine Printing at the Alexander Turnbull Library, part of the National Library of New Zealand. He was profiled in our ‘Bright Young Librarians’ series in 2013.

Image: Melbourne Antiquarian Book Fair, 2016, credit: Anna Welch; Book images, credit: Anthony Tedeschi.

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