The bookplate of Edward Augustus Petherick
Part 2 of a series on these fascinating provenance labels
11 March 2014
This is the second of two blog posts on a couple of mysterious bookplates found in some of books included in the National Library’s exhibition, Mapping Our World: Terra Incognita to Australia, which closed this week.
The first blog post covered Arthur Paunzen’s bookplate for Irma Roth. This post explores an anonymous bookplate that seems to be associated with one of the Library’s other great foundational collectors, Edward Augustus Petherick.
It appears in two books with were included the Mapping Our World exhibition:
Quick checking reveals the bookplate in at least another three books from Petherick’s collection:
As well as being modest by not including the collector’s name, the bookplate is a modest size (49 x 70 mm), and in a landscape rather than the usual portrait orientation. Further investigation reveals Petherick’s periodical The Torch and Colonial Book Circular as what appears to be the source of the engraved image:
The reference to a torch, which Petherick adopted as the title of his journal from its second issue, was inspired by a quote from Sir Richard Steele:
“Knowledge of books is like that sort of lantern which hides him who carries it, and serves only to pass through secret and gloomy paths of his own; but in the possession of a man of business it is as a torch in the hand of one who is willing and able to show those who are bewildered the way which leads to their prosperity and welfare.”
In an introductory note, Petherick explicitly identifies himself (and his Colonial Booksellers’ Agency) as “a lover of books, and I hope ‘a man of business’—having served twenty-five years with the largest of Colonial Booksellers, Messrs. George Robertson & Company.” He hopes to provide “more light” (through books shipped to “all parts of the world”) to guide the bewildered to “prosperity and welfare” (apparently symbolized by the sack of gold held aloft by the winged Mercury):
“it will be my earnest endeavour so to hold my little candle that any who come within reach of its rays may find it a useful and helpful guide.”
Petherick’s business, which Alison Rukavina has described in The development of the international book trade, 1870-1895 as a Victorian era Amazon.com, ended in bankruptcy, but he was able to retain his collection, and he seems to have reused this printer’s block to print an image he used as a bookplate in a small number of books he particularly prized. This might explain why it provides no identification of the book collector, as he may not have had an additional block or letterpress that included his own name. In addition, perhaps he may have been sufficiently confident to believe that this image was sufficiently well known through its association with The Torch to not need any additional identification. The bookplates in the two volumes of his set of Hakluyt are not uniformly printed (one is considerably lighter than the other), suggesting he may even have printed them himself, perhaps with a tabletop letterpress outfit. Petherick’s first paid employment (aged eight) was as a printer’s boy or compositor in Wellington Street, Collingwood.
The winged Mercury figure appears to be derived from the title pages of Mundus Alter et Idem by Mercurius Britannicus, which progressively depict Mercury sitting, standing, and flying through the air, above the new world of an imaginary Terra Australis:
Petherick had a special interest in this book as a prominent example of what he categorized as works of fiction set in “Terra Australis incognita,” which as Ian Laurenson has pointed out in 1977, formed a prominent part of Petherick’s collection at his home in Melbourne after 1908, as described by Petherick himself:
“At the end of the room in glass case … is a selection of works of prose fiction of the 17th and 18th centuries—when philosophers, discussing systems of government or satirizing the vices of Europeans (in order to keep their heads upon their shoulders), wrote imaginary voyages—placing their Utopian schemes or satires in the Southern World—Mundus Alter et Idem (1605)—another world yet the same. In Gabriel de Foigny’s La Terre australe connue the word ‘Australiens’ is first used as describing the inhabitants of this southern continent. Mundus Alter et Idem, usually attributed to Bishop Hall, but claimed also for another, Alberico Gentili, eminent in Law as Hall was in Divinity: there are several translations of it into English and German…”
The main proponent of the authorship of Alberico Gentili over Joseph Hall (rejected by most of Petherick’s contemporaries, as well as most modern scholars), was Petherick himself. Petherick’s article, “On the authorship and translations of Mundus alter et idem (1605)” in Gentleman’s Magazine, 1896 is one of his most significant works in his quest for recognition as a historical geographer that saw Petherick become a member of the Royal Colonial Institute, the Geographical Society, the Linnean Society, and especially the Hakluyt Society, which he joined in 1882, and served as Councillor from 1891 to 1894.
The winged figure of Mercury recurs in Petherick’s later official bookplate, probably commissioned by Petherick himself as his collection was being integrated into the Parliamentary (and later National) Library collection:
The Library’s Pictures Collection holds both a single printed example as well as the larger original artwork for this bookplate. It appears to be a pen and ink drawing with a few white gouache corrections. The winged Mercury figure is a later correction, on a different, whiter, paper stock, re-drawn on a small oval and then pasted on top of the original artwork. This bookplate seems to have been ignored until the mid-1950s, when its existence was recalled, although its use as an official bookplate for the Petherick collection was never seriously contemplated. In October 1954, a member of the Petherick family visited the Library and expressed concern that Petherick was not being given appropriate recognition. In response, recommendations were made to the Library’s Committee:
(1) that an engraved bookplate be inserted in the items comprising the Petherick Collection;
(2) that a plaque commemorating E. A. Petherick should be set up when the new Library building is erected.
In a file note of 20 December 1955 (202/4/258/1, folio 65) Pauline Fanning reported being unable to find what was probably the block for this Petherick collection bookplate, and that Kenneth Binns (who met Petherick after he joined the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library as a cataloguer in 1911, and later became the head of the Commonwealth National Library before his retirement in 1947) recalled:
“it was Petherick’s own design, embodied such features as a map of Australia and the Jagellan globe, aiming to promote Petherick’s favourite theory that Australia was discovered by Amerigo Vespucci. In all, he said it was not particularly attractive.”
Although Binns’ reference to a map of Australia may be a lapse of memory without the bookplate in front of him, the Library apparently agreed with his aesthetic judgement, and approached Lieutenant Commander Geoffrey C. Ingleton (who had recently designed Sir John Ferguson’s George Howe bookplate) to produce “something about the same size of the Ferguson book-plate.” Ingleton accepted the commission, but despite repeated reminders (the last apparently in 1971), failed to deliver a bookplate design.
It is a pity that the opportunity to list Petherick’s books before dispersing them into the Library’s collection was not taken. As researchers making extensive use of the collection soon realize, they pop up all over the place, and can generally be identified either by an “EAP” on the spine or an embossed impression on the title page (this Petherick collection stamp is arguably preferable to a bookplate, in that it is smaller and may be less conspicuous than a bookplate plastered down with little sensitivity, as sometimes occurred with Ferguson’s bookplates).
Perhaps based on the evidence marshalled here from The Torch and the title pages of Mercurius Britannicus’ Mundus Alter et Idem, the anonymous winged Mercury bookplate appearing in the two books to be included in the Mapping Our World exhibition can now be taken as yet another further indication of a Petherick provenance.
But who Petherick commissioned his original winged Mercury block from, or the history of his later Petherick Collection bookplate, probably commissioned in Melbourne between 1909 and 1917, is not yet known.