State Library of Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 84 December 2009

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Christine Downer
This Book Belongs to …:
European bookplate collections in the State Library of Victoria

Michel Fingesten (1884–1943). Ex libris Ximenez. Etching, 1930s. Gartner collection.

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The Making of bookplates began in Europe during the Renaissance, with the growth of the armorial. Books were precious, and their acquisition marked the rise of a gentleman. The private library, a sign of education and affluence, needed a statement of ownership through small pieces of paper adhered to a title page or the inner cover of a binding. The first marks of book ownership were engraved with the owner's coat of arms, or perhaps even his initials. They were made by one person for another – a private transaction. Not until the 19th century did collectors come together to display their personal collections, hold small exhibitions, and band together in associations and clubs.
Bookplates usually entered public institutions as formed collections that had been assembled by individuals who then either gave them or sold them, usually to libraries. In the past, public collections tended to be predominantly armorial, the most famous being the Augustus Wollaston Franks collection bequeathed to the British Museum in 1897. Armorial plates are of greater interest to European collectors than Australian, probably because Australians have a somewhat cynical view of the importance of such status symbols and regard them as ‘elitist’ and therefore not quite democratic.

The State Library of Victoria bookplate collections

While the number of bookplates in the State Library is not large by international standards, the collection is significant in that it has examples of work by many of the major artists working in the field in the late 19th and into the last decades of the 20th century. In addition, the book stock does have plates in some volumes, but their identification and recording depends on the level of cataloguing given them, and the interest and knowledge of the individual cataloguer. Without specific mention in the public catalogue, they remain hidden. Purists amongst collectors would be pleased with this idea, since one of the criticisms that some Australian collectors have of their European colleagues is that the latter's plates are seldom put into books, and in some cases are commissioned purely for exchange. It has also been said that bookplates in institutions remain frozen, often neglected, uncatalogued and with many duplicates which might be exchanged or sold.1 This may have been so in the past, but the State Library collection is not static – it is growing. There are duplicates, but selling is not an option. Personal collections are built up through exchange, but institutions are not well placed to participate, even though exchange is a recognized practice with serials and monographs amongst librarians.
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BUKO [i.e. Jacques Burer-Kobler] (1884–1945). Ex libris Gerhard Horst Zempel.
Wood engraving, n.d. Gartner collection.

Jaroslav Lukavsky (1924–1984). Ex libris Jan Rhebergen. Wood engraving, n.d.
European bookplates, box 2/2.

Max Kislinger (1895–1983). Ex libris Irene Pace. Wood engraving, 1953.
European bookplates, box 2/2.

Tranquillo Marangoni (1912–1992). Ex libris Gianni Mantero Ingegnere. Wood engraving, 1948. European bookplates, box 2/2.

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Unidentified Japanese artists for unidentified collectors. Wood engravings, 1940s.
Gartner collection.

Sumiko Euki (b.1921). Woodblock, 1977.
Gartner collection.

Motoi Yanagida (b. 1940). Ex libris Ildiko Pittmann. Woodblock, 1980. Gartner collection.

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Within the State Library, collections of bookplates, both European and Australian, have had a somewhat peripatetic existence. Donations of Australian plates appear to have been sent direct to the Librarian, who would acknowledge them, but related correspondence does not mention whether they would be held within the Library or the National Gallery. The Library and National Gallery were then housed in the same building, and managed by a board of joint Trustees until 1944, after which each then had its own governing board of Trustees. Between 1948 and 1956, transfers from the National Gallery show that most bookplates had been located in Prints & Drawings before being sent to the Library, but the collections were still recorded in the National Gallery stock books. Collections transferred2 included engraved plates by the British artist C. W. Sherborn, and some Australian and New Zealand examples.
Writing on Australian bookplates is quite extensive, and has been well documented.3 Very little, however, has been published on holdings on non-Australian bookplates in Australian public or private collections. There are a number of small and one large collection of non-Australian bookplates in the State Library, and one of the most interesting is a group of Austrian and German plates, assembled and exhibited in 1925 by Ludwig Louis Politzer.4

The Politzer Collection

Politzer arrived in Melbourne from Naples in November 1909. He is described on the passenger manifest as an art dealer, and his subsequent careers included journalism, book collecting and dealing, bibliography, poetry and translating German works into English, including the letters of the lost explorer Ludwig Leichhardt.5 Another of his interests was photography, and a few examples of his work are held in the Library. Although he was described as Bavarian on his naturalization certificate, Politzer was born in Vienna in 1875, and had obviously spent some time in Munich, for Nettie Palmer remarked in a letter to him that ‘I wish I had known your Munich’.6
On 30 March 1925, an exhibition of 100 Ex Libris (Book Plates) organised by Politizer opened at the Sackville Gallery, 83 Exhibition Street, Melbourne. The catalogue listed the names of the artists and beside each name, the city with which he or she was associated. Most of the artists worked out of Munich or Vienna, but there were some from other German cities, and eastern Europe as well. In his introduction to the accompanying catalogue, Politzer noted that while the heraldic or armorial bookplate had not entirely gone out of fashion:
Its place has been taken by an intellectual and artistic Crest, in which the Artist tries to portray the essentials of the Book Collector's Character in the shape of a graphic Symbol.7
Politzer emphasized that the plates were examples of the art of German, Austrian and eastern European artists. Format was important, but their main interest was as
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Thomas Bewick (1753–1828). Thomas Bewick his mark. Wood engraving, n.d. Gartner collection.

examples of each artist's style and work. The Director of the National Gallery, Bernard Hall seemed to agree, advising the Trustees that he had ‘asked Mr Politzer to reserve 8 small prints from his collection … They are low-priced but of excellent design & workmanship’.8 In his memo, Hall had originally written bookplates, but crossed the word out and substituted print. Only seven plates were acquired for the Gallery, for a sum of 4 guineas.
The collection of 100 plates was subsequently acquired in 1936 from Felton Bequest funds. They form a history in miniature of design in this field from the late 19th century to the 1920s and contain examples by many of the important artists of the period, some of whom were associated with both the Munich and Vienna Secessionist movements in the late 19th century. They also reflect the influence and taste of the Munich based art critic and journalist, Richard Braungart (1872–1963). Nine of the plates are for him and his wife Jeanette. Braungart's writings on bookplates include Das moderne deutsche Gerbrauchs-Exlibris mit 400 abbildungen (Munich: Franz Hanfstaengl, 1922) and Das ex-libris der dame (Munich: Franz Hanfstaengl, 1923). The 1922 publication illustrates works by fourteen of the artists exhibited by Politzer, as well as several plates commissioned by the same owners.
Although he had managed to sell only seven plates to the National Gallery, Politzer's first exhibition seems to have been a success with private collectors and he organized a second exhibition from 5 to 10 October 1925. In his preface to the catalogue9 of the 232 plates exhibited, Politzer stressed the importance of collecting the works of deceased artists such as Max Klinger, Alois Kolb and Franz von Bayros.10
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The second exhibition found a supporter in R. H. Croll, a former member of staff at the Library, a donor of some Australian bookplates to it, and for many years a senior official with the Victorian Education Department.11 He was also a noted book collector with a strong interest in and knowledge of Australian art and artists. Despite receiving a letter from Croll urging the acquisition of a number of plates, including one by Max Klinger, this time Hall was not impressed and noted that the selection included ‘some very “advanced” & ugly prints besides plenty of really bad drawing’. Nevertheless, he reluctantly recommended the purchase of five plates, for ‘the purpose of the bookplate is becoming less & less recognized & most of these prints are issued for sale to collectors’.12

The bookplate as memento mori

Some clues to the forthcoming unhappy developments in Europe before and during World War II can be found by studying the names of the owners and commissioners of these plates. They indirectly depict the headlong rush in Germany and Austria towards National Socialism and its isolating of and eventual removal of most of the Jewish population in occupied countries. Politzer was Jewish – at least, he is buried in the Jewish section of the Brighton cemetery13 – and some of the owners of these plates were also Jewish. Betty van Esso's plate by the Viennese artist Erich Schütz is a romantic design of a young woman with long hair pictured against a star-studded sky. But the stars did not continue to shine for Betty van Esso. She was rounded up with thousands of Dutch Jews, transported to the Westerbork transition camp, sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau and murdered there in 1942 or 1943.14 Carl Pauer-Arlau's plate for Oskar Singer (1893–1944) recalls a writer who was director of the Judisches Nachrichtenblatt (a Jewish newspaper) until his removal from Prague to the Lodz ghetto on 26 October 1941.15 Singer was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in August 1944 and did not survive. Arnold Schoenberg prudently left Germany for the United States in 1933, but continued to correspond with friends who remained behind, including Dr Emil Lemberger and Fritz Neurath. Neurath's plate also bears the name of his wife Olga, a mathematician. He too was a Holocaust victim, but the fate of his wife is not known.
Amongst those who not only survived but prospered, at least temporarily, was Olga Rigele. Rigele was Reich Marshall Hermann Goering's sister and physically very like him. Unkind bloggers on the Axis History website have suggested that her photograph in nurse's uniform is really her brother in fancy dress. Her bookplate by Munich artist Adolf Kunst (1882–1937) depicts a mountain capped with ice and snow. Fritz Rigele, her husband, was a mountaineer and adventurer who published several books in the 1930s. The snow-capped mountain image was also used by Kunst in about 1920 on a card to announce the birth of a child to the couple.16 Martin E. Phillip (1887–1978) made a bookplate for theatre director W. B. Iltz in June 1916, an image of an actor in costume
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Emil Kotrba (1912–1983). Ex libris Jan Rhebergen. Lithograph, 1957.
European bookplates, box 2/2.

Leo Wyatt (1909–198). Ex libris [Carmen] Callil. Wood engraving, 1976. Gift of Carmen Callil, 2009.

on stage. In April 1932, Iltz had directed a production of Kurt Weill's Die Burgschaft in Dusseldorf.17 Weill sensibly left Germany in 1933 after Hitler's rise to power. Working with Weill however did not prejudice Iltz in official eyes, for he became director of the Volkstheater Deutsches in Vienna in 1938 after the Anschluss. From 1938 to 1944, he used the theatre as a mouthpiece for the Deutsche Arbeitsfront which was a kind of National Socialist trade-union association with compulsory membership. Other plates also refer the viewer to the vibrant cultural life in Vienna before World War I. One of Austria's most revered actors working at Vienna's Burgtheater from 1899 until his death was Josef Kainz (1858–1910). He is commemorated as Hamlet holding Yorick's skull. This plate, designed by the Viennese Kurt Libensy, was a homage to Kainz's success in playing roles from Shakespeare. Although not dated, the plate is unlikely to have been executed during the actor's lifetime.
While Politzer admired the work of these artists whom he considered to be important in the history of graphic art, most of them do not now feature widely in art histories. Many of them are difficult to research using the limited printed sources available in Australia, and would have been impossible were it not for the internet. The work of the artist Politzer most admired, Franz von Stuck, now appears to be a rather unpleasant mixture of the erotic and the sentimental. His disciple Franz von Bayros, was described by Politzer as ‘the most gifted Artist in this particular branch of Art. Every one of his plates bearing the mark of Genius’ does not have the same appeal today. His engravings have a surface layer of prettiness, expressed with great competence, but are
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too fanciful and decorative for today's taste.
The presence of the Politzer collection in the Library provided a narrow but solid basis for future collecting of European bookplates. Prior to 1944, the Joint Trustees had already purchased several small collections by overseas artists, including seventeen from the armorial office of Mussett, a further small collection by European artists already represented in Politzer, and eight plates by American artists William Edgar Fisher (1872–1956) and Edwin Davis French (1851–1906). A collection of 69 etched plates by Charles William Sherborn (1831–1912) had been acquired in 1924 with funds provided by the Felton Bequest Committee. Of these, twelve were pictorial and 58 armorial. Their acquisition caused R. H. Croll to write to the Director of the National Gallery on 16 January 1925 asking that they be supplemented by some Australian prints because, contrary to Bernard Hall's view that interest in bookplates was in abeyance in Australia, ‘so much art and invention have gone into the making of bookplates in the Commonwealth during the last decade’.18 On 26 November 1926, Croll wrote to the Librarian asking for a list of the Australian bookplates which he (Croll) had already given to the Library. The response indicates that there seemed to be two different locations for bookplates: those deemed to be of ‘artistic’ merit (and European origin) were held by the Gallery, while the Library was responsible for any Australian plates. By 1956, it would appear that all bookplates, including the Australian examples, had passed to the Gallery, when they were handed over in toto to the Library. Sometime in the 1980s, after languishing for some years in the Art Library stacks in the Queen's Hall, they were re-housed in archival folders, and finally came to rest in the Picture Collection where they remain today.
In the 1980s, another collection of European plates was discovered, unfortunately without any accompanying documentation relating to their acquisition. Each bears the stamp of the State Library of Victoria19 on the verso, but there is no other information. They had been attached to large sheets of paper and adhered with stamp hinges. There are nine small collections, and because there are no plates dated after the mid-1960s, it seems reasonable to assume that they were acquired either in the late 1960s or the early 1970s. Seven of the artists represented worked as wood-engravers, and only two, the Belgian Lucien de Jaegher, (1912–1987) and Emil Kotrba (1912–1987) in another medium. Seven of the artists are from Eastern Europe, Pam Rueter (1906–1988) was Dutch, and Tranquillo Marangoni (1912–1992) was Italian. The plates are pictorial, with the type of strong images that reproduce so well through the medium of wood-engraving. The three Czech artists, all of whom are well documented in current general bookplate references, are Voytech Cinybulk (1915–1994, Emil Kotrba, and Jaroslav Lukavsky (1924–1984). The two Austrian artists are Emil Reinhold Rose (1894–1959) and the famous Max Kislinger (1895–1983) whose coloured wood-engraved plates were made for many important personal collections, including that of Marco Birnholz, whose
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collected was confiscated by the Nazis after the Anschluss in 1938.20 There are 72 plates by the Hungarian artist Istvan Drahos (1895–1968). With the exception of Kotrba, all these artists worked in wood, and reflect the taste of the unknown person responsible for their acquisition. All these artists are represented in depth in the John Gartner collection.

The John Gartner collection

One of the canons in institutional collection building is to ‘build on your strengths’. These European and Politzer plates provided a useful basis for considering the John Gartner collection which was offered as a gift to the State Library in 2001. Gartner had given the collection to the journalist Michael Duffy, a family friend. This important gift (deemed medium-sized in the bookplate world) numbers more than 28,000 examples of printing and also contains small prints, greetings cards and even a few stamps.
John Gartner was a fine printer and publisher, an author, a noted philatelist, and also collector of Australian banknotes and coins. He was born on 16 July 1914 and was largely self-educated, leaving school at fourteen for work following the death of his father. Although officially under age, he was encouraged by A. B. Foxcroft21 and used the collections in the Melbourne Public Library on Fridays. Through Foxcroft's tutelage, Gartner developed a strong interest in the history of typography and printing. He was apprenticed at the Advocate where his father had been a linotype operator. Aged 17, Gartner bought a hand press and some fonts of type, and in 1937 acquired a platen press from which he set and printed his private press books, published under the imprint of The Hawthorn Press. Adrian Feint designed a bookplate for Gartner in 1939, and in 1942 designed the device for The Hawthorn Press.
Gartner had a strong collection of Australian bookplates but these are not part of this present collection. As the Australian bookplate scene changed and artists died or, as he put it, ‘just faded away’, Gartner began to look at the work of artists overseas. During an interview recorded by Edwin Jewell, Gartner described how he began to commission personal plates from overseas artists and then form collections, using illustrations in publications from Europe.22 During his many visits to Europe, he bought up collections including some from deceased estates.
Gartner became friends with the Danish collector and publisher Klaus Rödel, who became Permanent Secretary of the International Federation of the Bookplate Amateurs Association (FISAE) when it was founded in Hamburg in 1966. With the help of friends and colleagues, Gartner continued to build his international collection. As with everything he acquired in his collecting, condition was very important to him. He worked from the annual publications of Artur da Mota Miranda, a Portuguese collector and writer. Mota Miranda's series of publications, Ex-libris encyclopedia bio-bibliographical of the art of the contemporary ex-libris, covered selected contemporary
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artists and contained examples and checklists of their work. Always an avid supporter of the checklist as a tool for selection, Gartner remarked to Edwin Jewell on the paucity of printed sources for bookplate collecting in Australia. His own collection of bookplate literature was his reference and selection tool.
As might be expected from someone who had printed from wood (and under the owner's protest) Sir Keith Murdoch's bookplate by Lionel Lindsay, Adrian Feint's plates, and the Christmas cards of Eric Thake, Gartner's preferences were for those artists who worked in this medium overseas. Initially searching in Belgium and Holland, he joined the Belgian-Dutch Society of Ex Libris clubs, and used their publications to select from. By 1983, Gartner had 40 personal bookplates printed by Australian artists as well as some from overseas. Tragedy struck, however, when on 16 February 1983, everything he and his wife owned, including their Mt. Macedon house, was destroyed in the terrible Ash Wednesday fires. They only narrowly escaped with their lives by sheltering under woollen blankets in their swimming pool. Gartner's 40 personal plates, the rest of the bookplate collection, its accompanying literature, and 40 years of correspondence, was lost, as well as his important collection of typefaces.
During a subsequent five and a half month tour of Europe and the United States, he started all over again. A collection assembled over 40 years could not be completely replicated because of the death of some artists and the scarcity of available work by others. But with the help of his friends Jan and Myra Rhebergen in the Netherlands, themselves avid collectors and bookplate commissioners, Gartner began to assemble this second collection, acquiring examples of work by artists he had owned before the tragic fires. This second Gartner collection is predominantly pictorial, with a small collection of armorials (less than 5%) and an even smaller number of calligraphic works.
Given the size of the collection – more than 28,000 examples – it has not been possible to present an in-depth analysis of artists, their differing styles, and the countries they represent. But wood-engraved plates are one of its strengths.
Always Gartner's favourite medium, wood-engraving has a long history in the graphic arts of Northern Europe. Other Netherlands artists whose work he admired and collected are Wim Zwiers (b.1922, 49 plates) and Pieter Wetselaar (1928–2000) who worked in copper as well as wood (55 plates). His friend and fellow collector Jan Rhebergen promoted and wrote on the work of Jan Batterman (1909–1999) and Gartner acquired 129 of his bookplates as well as 29 examples of his fine printing. However, neither Pam Rueter (1906–1998) nor Frank Ivo van Damme, artists whom Gartner greatly admired and had previously collected, are represented in the current collection.
Two of the Belgian artists collected in depth were Gerard Gaudaen (1927–2003, 484 plates) and André Gastmans (b.1934, 163 plates). Looking across a number of mediums other than wood, Gartner assembled an impressive cross-section of artists
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working in Belgium and Holland, including 258 plates by Lou Strik (1921–2003), and 110 by Harry Corvers (1913–1982). Belgian artists Nelly Degouy (1910–1979, 75 plates), Désiré Acket (1905–1987, 77 plates), and a number of others who worked in wood are also represented, but the collection is not confined to artists working only in this medium. One of the exciting things about sorting through the boxes in the ‘Two Countries’ series is the number of works, sometimes only one plate, by artists whose work is recognized in standard contemporary dictionaries of art.23
Many of the English artists collected were also wood engravers. There are a few examples from the workshop of Thomas Bewick (1753–1828) commonly considered the father of British wood engraving because he used conventional metal engraving tools on box wood cut across the grain. These examples, compared with 20th century examples in the medium, appear to be quite stylized and formal, but this is probably because Bewick had no formal art training and worked mainly as an illustrator for ornithological publications. Bewick's influence was strong in the 19th century, but in 20th century English graphic art the work of Eric Gill was more significant. Although no bookplate by Gill has been found in Gartner's collection, many artists who are represented there have acknowledged Gill's influence. Eric Ravilious (1903–1942), for example, is represented in the collection by one plate, as is his teacher, Paul Nash (1889–1946).
Several key figures in English graphic art are represented by a single plate, and works by them are considered quite rare today and one by Aubrey Beardsley (1872–1898): one by William Nicholson (1872–1949), of Beggarstaff Brothers fame, who had a major influence of the Australian graphic art of William Blamire Young (1862–1935). Links with Australia are present, if somewhat tenuous. In the post-war period, Derek Riley de Cayless (b.1933) made a number of calligraphic plates for Australians, including several for Gartner. In 1980, he designed one for the noted book collector and bookseller, Henry Blake Muir24 and two more in 1981. Another was made for Keith Wingrove in South Australia in 1982. Riley's plates for Gartner include one dated 1981, which bears The Hawthorn Press symbol, two for him the following year, and a joint plate for Zelma and John Gartner also in 1982. He designed a further two for Gartner in 1984 after the Ash Wednesday fire. There are now 81 plates by Riley in the current collection. Other English workers in wood whom Gartner collected are Simon Brett (b.1943, 78 works), David Kindersley the famous letter cutter in stone, who died in 1995, Leo Wyatt (1909–1981, 189 plates) and Leslie Benenson (b.1941, 55 plates).
In Italy, one of the most famous and highly sought after artists is Michel Fingesten (1884–1943). The reviewer of Norbert Nechwatal's Michel Fingesten: Das graphische Werk, published in Germany, in 1984, described Fingesten's life as one which made ‘George Orwell's Down and out in Paris and London seem like a Sunday School picnic’.25 Fingesten was born in Silesia and his mother came from a Jewish family in Trieste.26 He
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studied in Vienna with fellow artist Kokoschka, and was influenced by the caricatures of Paul Klee. Fingesten is known to have visited Australia. According to his patron and collector, Dr. Gianni Mantero, he was virtually shanghaied by a Dutch merchant ship captain, and forced to make a kind of world tour, the ship sailing to ports wherever a cargo would be available. By the 1930s, Fingesten was a well-known and admired artist living in Germany, mentioned briefly in works by Richard Braungart. Because of the Nuremburg race laws, he moved to Milan, where he continued to work under the patronage of Mantero and others. As anti-Jewish sentiments became official policy in Mussolini's Italy, he was rounded up with others and incarcerated in a concentration camp near Certosa, where he continued to work and be visited by Mantero. He died in hospital of infection in 1943, either as a result of injuries caused by Allied bombing or because of a botched operation, and was buried in an unmarked grave on which Mantero erected a headstone later that year. Gartner was able to collect 88 plates, seven greetings cards and another example of Fingesten's printing. Some are etched but most are wood-engraved, and although this represented a small percentage of Fingesten's complete output, it is one of the most interesting groups, and one of the most valuable in artistic and commercial terms.
Although I have concentrated on the important wood-engravers in the Netherlands, Belgium, England and Italy, there are many other artists whose works in wood are found throughout the collection. Gartner thought highly of Christian Blæsbjerg (b.1903) a Danish artist from Odense, and assembled more than 390 works by him, including several designs for personal plates. There are also many examples of the work of other Danish artists. There is an interesting group of Spanish artists, most of them Catalan, and another small group of French artists who were based around Nancy.
There are more than 460 examples of the work of Czech artist Voytech Cinybulk (1915–1994) and there is some coverage of other Czech artists. Hungarians include Antal Fery (1908–1994), Istvan Drahos (1895–1969) and Joszef Menyhart (1901–1975). Small collections by artists from Finland, Sweden and Norway, from Lithuania, Poland and larger numbers from Hungary and the Czech Republic were also assembled. Germany and Austria are represented by some well-known artists including Ottohans Beier (1892–1979), Max Kislinger (1895–1983), Alfred Cossman (1870–1951) and some of his disciples like Hans Ranzoni (1896–1991) and Hubert Woyty-Wimmer (1901–1972). Several Swiss artists were also collected. One of the most interesting from an historic point of view is Jacques Burer-Kobler (1884–1945) who signed his wood engravings ‘BUKO’. He adopted the swastika as well as SS insignia for plates designed for individuals as well as organisations like the Hitler Youth in Basel. One plate for Georg Schrader, obviously a sailing enthusiast, has the Waffen SS double lightning bolt decorating the sails of his yacht. His designs for Nazis, unsurprisingly, seem to have cast rather a cloud over the artist's post-war reputation, though there is no denying the strength of design elements in them.
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Derek Riley (b.1933). Ex libris Keith Wingrove. Wood engraving, 1982. Gartner collection.

Hitoshi Seimiya (1886–1969).
Ex libris Jan Rhebergen. Woodblock, n.d. Gartner collection.

The bookplate as historic marker

Underlying these examples of the engraver's art is a history in miniature of 20th century Europe, much of it spent in conflict and waves of oppression – World War I, the rise of nationalism and fascism, World War II, and the Soviet occupation of Eastern bloc countries until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The resultant censorship in the arts led to artists concentrating on forms which could not be construed as controversial, and a consequent rise in importance of the graphic arts as mediums for posters for films and theatre, as in Poland and Hungary, and in the making and exchanging of bookplates, to be exchanged between private individuals.
Well before World War I, German critics and writers were engaged in debates about the representation of nationalism in art. Richard Braungart was one of these who urged competing factions within the German art world to unite during the real war and concentrate on what was ‘essential art’, and to ignore influences from countries like France with whom Germany was at war.27 This debate escalated after 1933, with the rise of the Nazis, when official disapproval of ‘degenerate art’ culminated in a series of exhibitions meant to induce disgust in viewers. Symbols were used to represent nationalism, and were adopted by countries on both sides of the conflict leading up to the Second World War. The most obvious was the swastika, a sign of peace in the Hindu
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pantheon, reversed, coloured and adopted to brand the new order in Germany. The Spaniards under Franco adopted the bundle of fasces, the Russians the hammer and sickle, and the Free French the Cross of Lorraine. Beside these examples, the British bulldog and Union Jack seem almost tame. These symbols of national zeal eventually became symbols of oppression and cause for fear. But historic clues to post-war Europe are also to be found on the verso of so many bookplates in the collection. A number bear the old USSR notation on the reverse. DDR (German Democratic Republic), CSSR (Czech Soviet Republic) and other notations remind one that post-war Eastern Europe was occupied by the victorious Soviet army and later political oppressive puppet governments. Although artists living in these countries did manage to produce bookplates in quite large numbers, as some had during World War II, it might have been difficult for them to visualize the events of 1989 and the resultant collapse of the communist models of government. Even now, when one sees the notation CZ on the verso of a plate, it cannot be quite clear whether this is an accurate description or whether it should now be Slovakia. It may be a minor puzzle, but still interesting.
Browsing through the Gartner boxes, it is good to see how friends helped Gartner replace his losses. Jan and Myra Rhebergen's gift of their personal plates have been kept together, a memento of a friendship which lasted for many years. In his interview with Edwin Jewell, Gartner had mentioned that he lived near a man called Victor Singer in the 1940s. According to Gartner, ‘He was a very active collector. He was a refugee from Germany. He was Jewish. He had an incredible collection of bookplates.’ Singer died suddenly in Melbourne in 1944. In Gartner's eyes, ‘he would have been a great asset to collecting in Australia’. It is pleasing to find that, in the last of the first countries series box, a number of plates by various artists bear Singer's name – a reminder of a valued fellow collector. Through his collection, Gartner commemorated artists, friends and acquaintances, and those for whom a bookplate was not only a mark of ownership but also a clue to their identity.

Access and future use

Digital access to State Library bookplate collections is possible for the Alma magicians’ bookplates, and those of Eric Thake. The Politzer collection is stored in archival conditions, accessioned, listed, and has a group entry on the catalogue. The Sherborn examples, and those in the nine small European collections are stored properly, but not yet accessioned, listed or catalogued. Achieving this would not be a particularly onerous task. The Gartner collection is a much larger project, although it was received with an artist list for the larger groups of plates. John Gartner was a great believer in the checklist, and a complete artist list is developing as each box is surveyed, the contents bagged in polypropylene sleeves, the artist's name and country of origin inscribed in pencil on the supporting board. But in the countries boxes,28 almost none of the artists
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are listed, some are not accurately identified, and the difficulties of researching each name are compounded by the lack of available published sources in Australia. Enquiries from overseas have been received since the current location of the Gartner collection was placed on the FISAE website earlier this year. A certain amount has been achieved, and the collection is physically accessible, but there remains much more to do. Some countries boxes contain checklists but no plates by that artist, and one concludes that it may have been Gartner's intention to acquire examples sometime in the future. This may be one way of continuing to build the collection were funds available to do so.

Is there a future for bookplate collecting in the State Library?

Australian bookplates will continue to be collected through purchase and gift. The prospect for continuing to expand the international content is by no means certain. The initial small European collection begun in the 1920s was augmented during the 1970s and greatly expanded by the gift of the Gartner Collection in 2000. The emphasis is now strongly European, with examples from the late 19th century to the early 1990s. This reflects Victoria's first European settlement, subsequent arrivals from Europe during the gold rushes, and European immigration immediately after World War II. Australia now tends to think of its position in the Asia/Pacific region, and to look east rather than west. It seems logical therefore, to examine how our current view of Australia's position in the world might be reflected in future collecting of bookplates. Some New Zealand bookplates were acquired in the 1930s, but these are no longer representative of ex libris activity in that country. A more solid basis might be to expand the small collection of Japanese bookplates already in the Gartner collection,29 and build on the few Chinese plates. Fortunately, there are active ex libris associations in China and Japan30 and establishing contact with them might lead to opportunities for purchase and exchange.
Although the amount of money required to continue collecting are not great, purchase is unlikely, given the relatively small acquisition funds available from government to build on existing collections worth many millions right across the State Library. The other options for acquisition are exchange and donation. Solicited donations, a practice much used by Redmond Barry in the 19th century, may be one way of adding to the collections, but experience in other fields shows that this is not a systematic way to build a collection. Unfortunately, ear-marked funds are needed for collection building in any area. Exchange is a well-established practice in the library world, but this would require someone to undertake this on a consistent basis. Such a person would need personal and international contacts. It is not impossible, but highly unlikely. Unfortunately, it seems that only a specific endowment from an external source would ensure the continued growth of the State Library's bookplate collection. Philanthropists, you are now on notice.

1

Brian North Lee, ‘Frozen bookplates’, Bookplate Journal, new series, vol. 3, no. 2, September 2005, p. 138.

2

Working from stockbook printouts, the then Registrar, Gordon Morrison, checked plates in the Pictures Collection in late 1992, and with a few exceptions, everything listed was accounted for.

3

See, for example, Mark Ferson, Australian Literature on Bookplates: a bibliography (1899–1988), Sydney: Book Collectors’ Society of Australia, 1988. Ferson's work has a useful analysis year by year which shows that publications peaked in the 1940s, then declined, and began to increase again in 1985.

4

European bookplates collected by L. L. Politzer. Pictures Collection, State Library of Victoria. Ephemera: European bookplates: Box 2/2.

5

Politzer's death certificate gives his place of birth as Vienna. His first marriage took place in the United States when he was 24 and produced three children. It is not clear when his two daughters arrived in Australia, but Klare was naturalized in 1941. His short biography in H. W. Malloch's Fellows All: the chronicles of the Bread and Cheese Club, Melbourne (Melbourne: The Club, 1943), gives his place of birth as Munich, information presumably supplied by Politzer himself. He also taught cookery at the Emily McPherson College, and was the author of Polly's Cooking Course in 20 lessons. His expertise was in paper bag cookery. He also conducted ‘the first cabaret in Australia’. He was obviously a man of many interests and talents. For an obituary see Bohemia, vol. 9, June 1954, p. 5.

6

Letter from Nettie Palmer, dated 3 June 1931, Letters to Ludwig Louis Politzer, MS 10361, Box 214/5, Australian Manuscripts Collection, State Library of Victoria.

7

[Catalogue of an] Exhibition of … Ex Libris (Book Plates) commencing March 30th [1925], Pictures Collection, Politzer provenance file, State Library of Victoria.

8

Bernard Hall, ‘Memo re Exhibition of Book Plates & recommendation for purchase’, VPRS 805, unit 25, Public Record Office Victoria. Memo dated 31 March 1925.

9

There is a copy in the Politzer provenance file, Pictures Collection, State Library of Victoria.

10

Kolb did not die until 1942, but it would have been difficult for Politzer to know this, considering the dearth of publicly available published information on European graphic artists.

11

Robert Henderson Croll (c.1869–1947). See ABD.

12

It is clear from memos in the Director's outwards correspondence to 1945 that Hall had little time for dealers, even less for collectors, was engaged for some years in a running battle of wills with the Felton Committee over acquisitions and funding, and resented suggestions for acquisitions by members of the public.

13

Brighton Cemetery, Jewish section, compartment C, Grave 10a. I am grateful to the Brighton Cemetorians [sic] for providing this information and a digital photograph of the tombstone.

14

The Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names http://names.yadvashem.org/wps/portal/IY/_HON-welcome (accessed 4 June 2009). http://chgs.unm.edu/museum/memorials/westerbork (accessed 4 June 2009).

15

University of Minnesota. Center for Holocaust & genocide studies. (accessed 7 July 2009).

16

http://www.antiquebook.com/boox/ (accessed 4 June 2009).

17

http://www.aeiou.at./aeiou.encyclop.v/ (accessed 4 June 2009).

18

R. H. Croll, VPRS 800, unit 30, inwards letters 1924–1925, letter 50, Public Record Office Victoria.

19

Each bookplate bears a stamp in faint black ink in small capitals: STATE LIBRARY OF VICTORIA. No further information has been found on the reverse of any of the plates.

20

Phillip Goodman, ‘Marco Birnholz – ex libris’, journal article without reference, pp. 15–25, dated 1952, from the John Gartner collection. Birnholz's collection, minus many examples, was reluctantly returned to him after the war after intervention by the US government in 1950.

21

For Foxcroft, see Shane Carmody, ‘A life of scholarship: A. B. Foxcroft at the Melbourne Public Library’, La Trobe Journal, no. 79, Autumn 2007, pp. 82–96.

22

Mrs Zelma Gartner and Mr Edwin Jewell kindly made a transcript of this interview (not dated) available for safekeeping with other documentation on the collection.

23

References to numerous on-line sources in the National Art Library, Victoria & Albert Museum, London (accessed 13–25 May, 2009).

24

Muir ran the Beck Book Company in Adelaide and also founded the Wakefield Press.

25

Norbert Nechwatal, Michel Fingesten, 1884–1943: das graphische werk, Coburg, Germany: Druckhaus Neuve Presse 1984. Unsigned review, Bookplate Journal, vol. 3, no. 1, March 1985, pp. 47–48.

26

Ex Libris Museum http://exlibrismuseum.it/web/museum/index (accessed 8 March 2009). All the information I have is provided from this source, translated by Google. I have chosen to highlight Fingesten because he is yet another example of a life ruined by persecution during World War II.

27

Richard Braungart, ‘Kreig und Kunst’, Die Kunst fur Alle, 29, nos. 23–24 (1913–1914), p. 553. Quoted in Joes Segal, ‘The work of art as a mirror of national identity…’, European Review of History, vol. 4, issue 1, 1997, pp. 9–17.

28

Series 1 and 2. When these two series are integrated, a clearer picture of the holdings will emerge. There are four separate series in the present arrangement, and the control is an alphabetical artists list which gives the number of plates, and their location within the four series. I intend to arrange the collection by country of origin, and within each country series, alphabetically by artist. Research files, including checklists will be similarly arranged. The size of the task means that it would probably take two years’ full-time work, including re-housing, inscribing artists’ names on each mount, data entry and extensive research.

29

These appear to have been collected through the good offices of Dr. Ichiguro Uchida, a noted collector and bookplate competition judge of international reputation, http://www.fisae.org/membersoc.htm/. The FISAE portal lists member societies, most of which art in Europe, but there are 3 associations in China, and one in Japan. The next FISAE Congress will be held in Istanbul in August 2010.