State Library of Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 77 Autumn 2006

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From the Editorial Chair

Reports of the death of the book appear to have been premature, despite the rapid increase in electronic publishing. The technology of book production has changed, but the standards of printing and design have not. Indeed, looking at the beautifully produced volumes that are now being published, it sometimes seems as if technological advances and the possibilities of publishing in other forms have stimulated even more interest in the book as an artifact.
The ‘Mirror of the World: books and ideas’ exhibition now in the Dome impressively demonstrates the great range of books held in the State Library. As the curators point out, the exhibition provides ‘an overview of the history of book production, design and illustration, dating from the Middle Ages through to the present day’. This theme of ‘book-making’ (in its most inclusive and worthwhile sense) is taken up in this number of The La Trobe Journal, in articles that emphasize, once again, the diversity within the State Library.
Visitors to the Library from other parts of the world are often surprised that a comparatively new institution in the Southern Hemisphere has been able to acquire so many rare and unusual books. Shane Carmody's detailed account of how a copy of William Caxton's Myrrour of the World (from which the exhibition takes its name) came to the State Library is an important contribution towards the writing of a history of the collections. The significance of the Felton Bequest for the National Gallery of Victoria is widely appreciated, and this article draws attention to how the Library also benefited for a time.
Caxton's work in the fifteenth century marks the beginning of a new phase in the making of books and the dissemination of knowledge in English. Hilary Maddocks writes about one of the productions of the new technology in her account of a printed Book of Hours that was issued in Paris at the beginning of the sixteenth century. She notes that the copy held in the State Library – one of only four known to be extant – could at first glance be mistaken for an illuminated manuscript: a reminder that new technology does not immediately lead to the abandoning of existing traditions.
The ‘horn-books’ that Juliet O'Conor, Children's Research Librarian at the State Library, writes about were not what we think of as books. (Facsimiles of these early teaching aids are displayed in the ‘Mirror of the World’ exhibition.) This term, originally used for the small wooden bats with a printed leaf of paper covered by horn and by transference for early children's primers, has dropped out of common use, and may be unfamiliar to some of our readers. Printing and publishing for children is an endlessly fascinating subject with a long history. The horn-book in England has been the subject of an authoritative study, but as yet no similarly comprehensive study has been attempted in Australia. Perhaps Juliet O'Conor's introduction to the topic will stimulate further research into early teaching methods in Australia, and establish whether horn-books were used here.
In Australian book history detailed research of the kind done by Kate Riley has seldom
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been possible, as few publishers in the past preserved their archives. Thanks to the Lothian Papers in the State Library she is able to document very fully the publishing history of Ida Rentoul Outhwaite's handsomely illustrated Elves and Fairies, a landmark volume in both Australian children's literature and art publishing. Ida believed that the Second World War ‘stopped the taste for fairies – in parents anyhow’; but some of the older members of the Foundation may have known this de luxe volume in their childhoods, and perhaps one or two remember Ida and her sister Annie, a noted teacher at Presbyterian Ladies College.
The emphasis in Kate Riley's article is on business aspects of the production of Elves and Fairies, which was designed to display the art of Ida Rentoul Outhwaite. Kerry Heckenberg's general theme is the relationship between illustrations and text in nineteenth-century Australian inland exploration journals. In this article she considers the work of Ludwig Becker, the talented German artist accompanying the ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition, in the context of illustrated narratives of Australian exploration. Burke and Wills did not survive to publish an account of their expedition, and Becker died early on the journey. However, the illustrations that he was able to complete were preserved and are held at the State Library, and were published some years ago in a handsome volume edited by Marjorie Tipping. This article, which identifies scientific ideas and attitudes that shaped his art and explores how they emerge in particular instances, argues that Becker's images of the expedition contrast with those that have constructed the standard narrative of Australian exploration.
All the contributions in this issue of the Journal deal with materials collected in the State Library. It is perhaps worth reiterating that we are always interested in receiving submissions on any topics that have a connection with the Library, either about the collections themselves or based on research undertaken in the Library.
John Barnes