Barnett and the Beacon Press.
Pictorial Book-Plates Their origin; and use in Australia (1931) has a magnificent frontispiece with one of the idylls of Sydney Long, a young naked woman with three swans in a woodland. Added to the charm is the addition of a remarque. Apart from the main image a sketch of a crow has been added which will only appear on a few copies of the bookplate as it is scraped off after some copies have been printed. A book-plate with a remarque is more valuable as they are rarer. They are often referred to as a remarque proof and there are several in this book.
Barnett gives a general history of the development of the book-plate overseas and then in Australia. His style is very stilted and often the information is repeated in his other books, however he can not be chided here as this is the first of his major books.
Some of the outstanding examples here are "Jean" etched by Olive Crane (not in the standard edition). Percy Spence's 1899 book-plate of John Lane Mullins in his library is said by some to have popularised the pictorial bookplate. Norman Lindsay's bears are there in a plate for G. L. Garnsey. A very stylistic plate from Eirene Mort has a tree developing out of the top of a map of Australia.
Many book-plate artists lived in Sydney and the harbour and later the Sydney Harbour Bridge were used as a backdrop. Adrian Feint's colour woodcut for Sydney Ure Smith romantically captures the harbour. Feint also has an almost Margaret Preston-style in his vase of flowers for Barbara Lane Mullins. Another fine colourist was George Perrottet, represented in this book by a white sea gull against a very blue sky.
Lloyd Rees' plate for Rosamond Lane is signed in my copy which provides extra interest and adds to the excitement of going to libraries and checking which plates are signed in different copies of the same edition. Of this Edition de Luxe 100 copies were printed.
Armorial Book-Plates: Their Romantic Origin and Artistic Development (1932) was Barnett's major publication. As one would expect there is little Australian content in this book, mostly European. There are chapters on German and French bookplates as well a detailed examination of various periods of British armorial book-plates. There is much to enjoy here for those who like heraldic art and there is a beautiful colour reproduction of a 1470 plate of Hildebrand Brandenburg.
There are many plates that belonged to many well known people from the past such as Lord Byron (very traditional and not at all romantic),William Pitt, Thomas Moore and a rather wild looking lion holding a star representing Charles Dickens.
I have to confess that, to me, the more interesting section is that of Australian and New Zealand Armorials. There is John Godson's plate to the Governor of New South Wales, Sir Philip Game depicting Government House in Sydney. To counter this, Barnett commissioned Phyllis Shilleto to draw a plate for Captain Francis Edward De Groot. The plate features two pylons of the Sydney Harbour Bridge with a ribbon across them and the slogan "The sword is mightier than the scissors".
There are also book-plates to well known adventurers. Kingsford-Smith's aeroplane soars under the wing of a formidable eagle with the slogan "King of the Air". Elsewhere L. Roy Davies has created an evocative, if bleak book-plate for Douglas Mawson, almost a silhouette of a lone man with a dog sled and the ship in the background against a darkening sky.
In 1934 Barnett published Woodcut Book-Plates which featured a foreword by Lionel Lindsay. Lindsay gives a technical explanation of the difference between a woodblock and wood engraving which is an essay in itself. Barnett takes up the debate but it is the plates themselves that take the initial attention. There are many non-Australian plates here including a striking windmill for publisher William Heinemann.
There is a very unsettling blue and black plate for German Ed Wengert and a futuristic one for Dr W. Tropp by Karl Michel. Willi Knabe has presented a book-plate for Adolf Hitler complete with swastika. Barnett notes that "The bookplates of Willi Knabe exhibit a variety that is refreshing. With a leaning towards religious motifs he can yet enter with zest into the portrayal of levity, and from that to nationalistic symbolism. The advent of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor of Germany, like a brilliant meteor, as unexpected and as transient, startling the world and staggering Europe by shattering the flimsy structure of post-war diplomacy, has been portrayed with dignified restrain by this artist." Well it was 1934.
Benito Mussolini is represented by a plate by Bruno da Osimo. Barnett describes Signor Benito Mussolini as "the saviour of his nation and one of the greatest men of the century".
Rockwell Kent is represented in the section on American book-plates and this great artist's work can be further examined in the recently published Rockwell Kent: The Art of the Bookplate by Don Roberts (San Francisco: Fair Oaks Press, 2003).
The coloured Japanese book-plates are truly stunning and Okawara Bunko's extended rodent could be out of a current Japanese animation.
The Australian section is represented by some established artists like the Lindsays, George Collingridge and Adrian Feint as well as some newer artists like Phillip Litchfield and Eric Thake.
Barnett's last large and most encompassing work is Australian Book-Plates and Book-Plates of interest to Australia (1950). Published in a standard edition of 200, a special edition of 85 and 15 copies of an Author's Edition. The last 2 editions have many signed and nearly 30 extra tipped in plates. This book is almost a summary of the books that came before. There are chapters on early book-plates, armorial, ecclesiastical pictorial and plates from many countries. Favourites here are the cartoonist Harry Weston's "Anyone who says this book is his is a dam liar 'cos it's mine", Thea Proctor's vase of coloured flowers and the menacing lion by Will Mahony on his plate for Colin Faris. Children's artist and writer Gladys Neville MacGillycuddy has a very colourful plate with a little girl being swept along by mulficoloured balloons.
Times change as does political correctness and the language used. There is a fawning attitude toward the monarchy and England in general but like us all Barnett was a product of his time. What Barnett has given is us a series of wonderful books and smaller publications and have captured an exciting and vibrant period in book-plate production and development in Australia.
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|Title Annotation:||P. Neville Barnett's research into woodcut pictorial bookplates|
|Publication:||Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2004|
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