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What's in a label?

Collecting book labels is clearly an eccentric occupation. A cursory glance at the inside the cover of an old book, then on to the next until a label is spotted. Other customers may wonder about the object of the search. Enthusiasm, however, makes one obvious to public reaction. All too often there is a pale space where a label has been removed, or evidence of a page torn out. Venues for this quest range from opportunity shops, school fund raising sales, markets and antiquarian bookshops. The booty is a stamp-size label bearing the name and address of the bookseller who sold the book. The label may be dampened by a wet sponge, with plastic place over the sponge and and on the other side of the page to prevent further water damage, and then removed from the inside cover or the facing page. However some books are more valuable as units revealing the provence of the label, and as examples of the character of stock held by the booksellers at particular times.

An obsession with collecting book labels thankfully involves minimal baggage--one stamp album will store hundreds of labels. Judging from the number of bleached spaces and pages removed from books published before the early 1970s in Australia, book label collecting is popular. The State Library of Victoria has a sizeable collection, including more than 2000 specimens dating from as early as 1845 donated by former bookseller John Holroyd. Booksellers' labels became impractical with the introduction of 'sale or return' legislation in Australian bookselling. They have given way to barcoded stickers which are relatively easy to remove. Booksellers' labels are usually a small rectangular shape, little wider than a postage stamp and less than half as tall, and printed in a variety of colours at different times; others include symbols as well as names and addresses. A. H. Spencer used at one time an embossed stamp instead of a label. The labels tend to whet the appetite for information about the booksellers who used them, and Holroyd's background is very much part of the history of bookselling in Victoria. Behind the labels and their shops is a cultural web of interconnections as fascinating as the labels themselves.

John Holroyd (1911-2000) began employment at seventeen as an office messenger boy in the education department of Robertson & Mullens. His bass was Captain Charles Peters who valued a good memory in a bookseller, a quality which Holroyd certainly possessed, Holroyd left Robertson & Mullens for wartime service in New Guinea and on his return managed the Methodist Book Depot for sixteen years. The lure of second hand and rare books saw him complete his fifty-one years of bookselling with Angus & Robertson in Sydney at Swain's Bookshop. He retired in 1978, returning to Melbourne and building up his book label collection.

I too must confess to being a book label collector, and two of my favourites are from the Book Lovers' Library which was launched in 1896 at 215 Collins Street (opposite Melbourne Town Hall) by British radical journalist Henry Hyde Champion. In 1900 the business moved to 239 from 215 Collins Street (opposite E. W. Cole's new shop). The manager, Elsie Belle Champion was the sister of the radical and feminist, Vida Goldstein. The Booklovers' Library, according to the author, John Sendy, was mildly radical. It closed in 1936. Elsie Belle later worked for Robertson & Mullens where in 1951-52 she was mentor to Albert Ullin of The Little Bookroom, presenting him with a book of poetry, as he embarked of his first trip abroad.

The circular blue and white book label of The Booklovers' Library features a stylish hatted, slim-waisted woman holding a book. A less common and larger Booklovers' Library label in blue white and gold shows the hatted woman in a more contemplative pose surrounded by literature with a book in one hand and perhaps a tea-cup in the other.

Robertson & Mullens, in business from 1922, was formed from a merger between George Robertson & Co. Ltd. and Melville & Mullen Pty. Ltd. Their manager Captain Peters was a driving three behind the 1924 Children's book week held in Victoria. As early as 1928 they had a Children's book department with two staff managed by Violet Grant. Becoming a bookseller's training ground, they carried every, classic in print. With Cheshires, they were the most significant two bookshops in Melbourne. Customers demanded expert service, expecting their interests to be remembered and to be shown the very latest. In the early 1960s they were taken over by Angus & Robertson, but still referred to as Robertson & Mullens until about 1972.

Their labels ranged in colour from black print on white paper to white on blue and an almost unreadable gold on dark blue (the latter reprinted in a larger than nomal size for ease of reading).

Among my treasures is a petite, rectangular, austere black and white label from Cole's Book Arcade. Inside a work published in 1903, it is out of keeping with Cole's usually flamboyant advertising. This is a modest little label compared with more colourful examples used by Cole's (label is reprinted as twice its size).

Edward Cole arrived in Victoria from England in 1852 as a twenty-year-old, and by 1862 he was buying and selling secondhand books from a wheeled street barrow. In 1865 he opened a bookstall in the Eastern Market at the top of Bourke Street. 1873 saw him establish his Cole's Book Arcade at 158 Bourke Street, diagonally opposite the General Post Office. Ten years later on Cup Day he moved to new premises in Bourke Street. There were to be shops in Sydney and Adelaide as well and Cole's business including publishing. He shared his interests in the unusual and the grotesque in his most successful Cole's Funny Picture Book. In some ways 'new age', Cole successfully advertised for a wife and also promoted 'the brotherhood of mankind'. His Arcade was 'gynormous' six book departments on the ground floor, an orchestra, distorting mirrors and a cage full of odorous monkeys. 1929 saw the close of business and sadly the departure of monkeys from bookshops.

While Cole catered to popular tastes William Charles Andrade in 1898 established 'the first business which, according to John Sendy, 'could qualify as a bookshop and legitimately claim to specialize in radical literature'.

The label pictured related to his business at 201 Bourke Street (between the Eastern Market and Cole W Book Arcade) which became the the publishing and distribution centre for much of the Marxist literature circulating in Australia. Andrade's also stocked books about birth control, and advertised contraceptives, sometimes accidentally enclosing such advertisements in consignments of educational books for schools. The gangster Squizzy Taylor bought pencils at Andrade's and the leader of the ALP, Arthur Calwell, browsed there regularly. In 1920 Will Andrade moved to Sydney to open a bookshop in 32 Rawson Chambers, and in 1922 sold his Melbourne business to E. E. Davis. Andrade's occupied new premises at 52 Swanston Street in 1929 and were eventually bought by Allan's. Will Andrade died at the age of 76 in Manly Hospital N.S.W. as a result of a surfing accident.

Sydney Hall was to open Hall's Book Store in 1920 after 29 years in the employ of Cole. From the age of 13, Hall swept floors, dusted and carried books, eventually becoming manager of Cole's Secondhand Department.

In 1920 he bought a small bookshop in Chapel Street, Prahran with the 100 pounds he had saved. 1932 saw him open a much larger store at 371 Bourke Street. Both stores were magnets for browsers, second hand bargain seekers and shop lifters with hidden pockets inside large coats. In 1979 Hall's closed following a take over by the Australian branch of the publisher Thomas Nelson and new addresses for both stores. Over almost sixty years of business, Hall's used a variety of book labels in different colours and shapes. There was a rectangular gold label similar to the brown and white label shown. A stylish circular round embossed red label with white print is shown.

Art critic Robert Rooney was employed at Hall's Prahran store from 1958-1973. Always fascinated by Children's book illustrations and the subject of childhood, he was chastised by a woman colleague in the School Department on the first floor mezzanine, who said to him accusingly: 'You're always reading children's books, why don't you grow up?'

Rooney noted that certain educational booksellers at Hall's did not appreciate literary books and staff selling literature tended to look down on the staff of the School Department. Meanwhile Hall's operated in its own idiosyncratic way. Peg Porter of the Music Department played Mendelssohn's 'War march of the Priests' daily on an out of tune piano which also propped up Music Department shelves. In winter shivering staff sat on the pot bellied stove. Damp sawdust was used on the floor to stop rising dust, but customers walked in before staff had time to sweep the sawdust away. Reg. Hall, manager of Hall's printery, looked down upon the whole of the ground floor of the Prahran store from his glass-walled eyrie and customers referred to him as 'Big Brother'. Well known bookseller Jack Bradstreet, also worked with Rooney at Hall's.

A. H. Spencer, a former employee of Angus & Robertson, founded The Hill of Content in 1922. Its plain black and white book label informs the reader of his trade as a 'new and secondhand and rare bookseller'.

Patrick White's father H. L. White of Belltrees, Scone, a former customer of Angus & Robertson in Sydney, lent Spencer 1,000 pounds to establish his new shop. Spencer a convivial man, conducted much of his business at the Windsor Hotel, according to former bookseller, Elizabeth Wilkinson. In his autobiography, Spencer noted that 'the right sort of bookshop takes possession of the heart and life of people more deeply than any other business can. On his retirement Spencer sold his shop to his former employees; however in 1952 The Hill of Content became part of Collins Book Depot.

A rare post war book label in the Holroyd collection belongs to Margaret Ward's Bookshop which only existed for three years, from 1945-1948, when she sold to Speagle's who were to give the schoolboy Albert Ullin (founder of The Little Book Room) his first job.

This grey label with red print is reprinted with permission from the La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria. The reserved and knowledgeable Margaret Ward had been a librarian at the Myer Library.

In her bookshop she specialized in children's books, taking the opportunity to offer children real contemporary history and social studies presented in an engaging manner through books. In 1946 she advertised Children's Book Week, and Australian children's and teenager's books. An Argus article of the time by Mollie Westhoven shows Ward--smartly dressed, well-groomed, dark haired, dark suited--in her bookshop surrounded by her books. The sale to Speagle's may have been prompted by ill-health. Speagle's and The Little Bookroom labels were printed in

There were numerous religious bookshops in Melbourne each with their own distinctive labels.

The understated blue Bookroom label (so petite as to be almost invisible, and shown here at twice its size) represents the Presbyterian and Methodist church bookshops.

The latter bookshops became The Bookroom about 1972. They had begun much earlier as The Presbyterian Bookroom above the Scottish Tea Rooms at 156 Collins Street (before 1920 and the Melbourne Book Depot at the Immigrant's Home in Carlton (1857).

An oval shaped label with a book bearing the symbol of a tree is the trade mark blue Presbyterian Bookroom label. The Bookroom finally closed in 1990. It had become increasingly liberal in its book selection, and also more generous with discounts to schools, and these actors, according to former managers, Therese Hilton and Bill Freeman, may have hastened its closure.

The Keswick Bookshops were founded in 1924 by Harvey Percival Smith as Keswick Tea Rooms and Book Depot in the basement of 315 Collins Street. Smith had occupied the lucrative position of General Manager of the Federal Coffee Palace from 1893-1923. In 1902 he experienced a spiritual conversion to Christianity on his way back to the Hotel from a Torrey-Alexander Mission held in the city. H. P. as he was later known, resigned from his lucrative position at the Federal in 1923 when they were granted a liquor licence (to which he was opposed.

The Keswick Bookshops labels shown here are brown and red, each with white lettering and unusually shaped. These evangelical bookshops were eventually established in Dandenong, Frankston, Geeiong and Bendigo.

There is a myriad of examples of booksellers' labels in Melbourne. I have described only a small selection. These labels were printed wherever there were bookshops. You might venture into regional Victoria, interstate or overseas. From the golden label of C. W. Costello's Regency Bookshop in Regent Place, the red label of Blake's Busy Book Bazaar in Albury, Allan's music store in Adelaide displaying distinctive navy handwriting, the green label of Boan's Book Salon in Perth, and completing the journey in London perhaps at Foyles of Charing Cross road with an open green book--so many bookshops waiting to be rediscovered.

Bibliography:

1959 the centenary year of the Methodist Book Depot: Melbourne 1859-1959. 9 pp. [Pamphlet].

The early Australian booksellers: the Australian Booksellers Association memorial book of fellowship. Sydney, Australian Booksellers Association, 1980.

George Ferguson, Some early Australian bookmen. Canberra, Australian National University Press, 1978.

'Hall's Book Stores: founder began with Cole's Book Arcade', The Age, 6 Dee 1974

Keswick Bookshop: its beginnings and now. Melbourne, Keswiek Bookshops Inc., [1995] [4 p. pamphlet].

Dianne Reilly. 'John Holroyd: bookman', The La Trobe Journal, no. 66, Spring, 2000, p. 54.-56.

Robert Rooney. 'Mark my words: know thy place!', The Weekend Australian, Review, July 7-8, 1999, p. 10.

John Sendy. Melbourne's radical bookshops: history, people, appreciation. Melbourne, International Bookshop, 1983, p. 15.

A.H. Spencer. Hill of Content: books, art, music, people. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1959.

Elizabeth Toreesio. 'Melbourne leads the way: Children's Book Week in 1924', La Trobe Library journal, Special issue on Australian children's literature. Melbourne, State Library of Victoria Foundation, 1998, pp. 108-121.

Elizabeth Torcasio. Opening magic casements [manuscript]: children's bookshops in Melbourne, 1945-1993. 1996. Submitted in partial fulfillment for the degree of Master of Librarianship, Dept. of Librarianship, Archives and Records. Thesis (M. Lib.)--Monnsh University, 1996.

Cole Turnley. Cole of the Book Arcode: a pictorial biography. Hawthorn, Vic., Cole Publications, 1974.

Mollie Westhoven. 'A new era in children's books', The Argus, Women's pages, Oct 22, 1947, p. 18.

Interviews with Elizabeth Wilkinson, Bill Freeman, John Holroyd, Robert Rooney, Therese Hilton, and Albert Ullin during 1992-1993 for an M. Lib thesis (Monash University, Dept. of Librarianship, Archives and Records).
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Author:Torcasio, Elizabeth June
Publication:M A R G I N: life & letters in early Australia
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Apr 1, 2007
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