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Book Collecting

The first edition of Jonathan Wantrup's Australian Rare Books 1788-1900 was published 35 years ago. In the intervening decades he continued to make revisions and to add new chapters. The revised and enlarged second edition, to be published later this year, is three times the length of the first edition, adding five long new chapters, with over 500 works now described in the second edition Checklist (including many revisions or additions to the books described in the first edition).

The new chapters deal with: Colourplate Natural History to the 1850s; Colourplate Natural History from 1860 to 1900; The eight elaborate French 'grands voyages' into the south-west Pacific between 1817 and 1840, with an attempt to provide ideal descriptions of all the magnificent official and participant publications; books of the Australian gold rush from the 1850s and 1860s; finally a chapter on Australian colonial literature focusing on the landmark works that led to an Australian literature by the turn of the century.

Extract from Chapter Thirteen


It was at this time, in April 1887, that Hume was busy tidying up his Melbourne affairs. He registered his copyright in the Hansom Cab – oddly dilatory for a lawyer – and significantly gave Kemp and Boyce licence to print a future further edition of 10,000 copies. This is significant both as indirectly confirming the claimed large edition size of the third edition and as indirectly adding some weight to the date suggested for publication of the third edition. That fourth edition licensed by Hume in April 1887 would not, however, be printed until mid-1888.

We have more certain details of the fourth Melbourne edition than of any other, owing to the court case involving Jessie Pearson Dove Taylor, to whom Hume had sold the copyright in September 1887, and Kemp and Boyce, to whom Hume had given licence to print a further edition in April 1887 before the assignation of copyright to Mrs Taylor, who partnered Fred Trischler in the (London) Hansom Cab Publishing Company. This conflict of rights raised an interesting legal question but, in the end, the parties settled and it was never determined by the court. The case was reported in the Age and the Australasian on 29 and 30 June 1887 respectively. The longer and more detailed Australasian report was printed under the somewhat facetious heading “The Mysteries of a Hansom Cab”:
'A dispute in reference to the copyright of the novel called “The Mystery of a Hansom Cab” was brought before Mr. Justice Kerferd in chambers in the Supreme Court on June 28. The author of the novel, Mr. F. W. Hume, had in September last assigned his copyright to Mrs. Jessie Pearson Dove Taylor; the wife of Mr. G. N. Taylor, bank manager, and she was registered as the owner of the copyright. She alleged that Messrs. Kemp and Boyce, printers, were infringing the copyright by printing and selling copies of the book. She brought an action against Messrs. Kemp and Boyce to restrain them from continuing to sell the book, and on the 16th June an interim injunction was granted ex parte to restrain the sale. Yesterday Mr. Box applied on behalf of Mrs. Taylor for an order to continue the injunction till the trial of the action, or till further order. An affidavit was made on behalf of the defendants that in April, 1887, Mr. Hume had entered into an agreement with them by which, they were authorised to print and sell 10,000 copies of the book that the only copies that they were selling were those mentioned in that Agreement; and it was therefore submitted that Mrs. Taylor had no cause of action against them. They undertook not to print or sell any more than the 10,000 copies, and promised to keep an account of all the copies they sold. Mr. Isaacs, for the defendants, asked that if the defendants gave the undertaking referred to, the plaintiff should give an undertaking to pay any damages that the Court might award for loss sustained by the defendants in consequence of the interim injunction having been granted. Mr. Box. for the plaintiff, said that such undertaking would be given.'

Kemp and Boyce were represented by the great Sir Isaac Isaacs, later attorney-general of the Commonwealth of Australia, justice and later chief justice of the High Court of Australia, member of the Privy Council, Governor-General of Australia, and at that time widely regarded as the best practitioner at the Victorian Bar. The firm had done well out of the Hansom Cab and briefly became the choice of other writers anxious to climb on the ‘shilling shocker’ bandwagon, publishing Francis Adams’s Madeline Brown’s Murderer and Henry Hoyte’s Tramway Tragedy in 1887, both now quite rare. Kemp and Boyce seem to have retired from business by the end of 1888, probably having made their pile.

Taylor came back to court in April 1890, again disingenuously alleging breach of copyright, against Kemp and Boyce, “formerly publishers”, and seeking an injunction “to restrain them from further infringing the copyright, and also asking for an account of any profits they made from the sale of the books printed or sold by them in breach of the plaintiff’s copyright” (Argus, 3 April 1890, p. 7). Kemp and Boyce were not represented in court but did present defence papers. Evidently they raised the agreement Taylor had signed in June 1888 – she was a very slippery customer – and so she dropped her demand for an account of profits, which of course she had already agreed were not made in breach of her copyright. The court did, however, grant an injunction to stop Kemp and Boyce “from further interfering with the copyright of the plaintiff in the book”.

The 1888 court case provides a number of useful facts. First, with regard to the fourth edition, which is today the most common of the surviving Melbourne editions, the case establishes both the size of the last Melbourne edition and the fact that it was published in the middle of 1888, by which time as many as 250,000 copies of the London edition had already been printed. Taylor was therefore directly interested since the Kemp and Boyce printing was competing with imported copies of the London edition in which she had a direct investment. These facts would be otherwise unknown and the fourth Melbourne edition had generally been assumed to have been published in 1887 before Hume had sold his copyright to Taylor later that year…

It is noteworthy that the 230-page fourth edition appears to have been set from the 1887 London edition rather than from any of the earlier 242-page Melbourne editions. Here the two crucial pieces of evidence provided on the one hand by the case of Taylor v. Kemp and Boyce, and on the other by the unique copy of the third edition in the National Library of Australia, can put to rest what I and most others had believed: that there were only two editions of the Melbourne printing: the 242-page first of 1886, and a 230-page second edition of 1887, of which there were two further impressions (mis)described as the “Third Edition” and the “Fourth Edition. This led inexorably to the conclusion that it was from this supposed 230-page second Melbourne edition that the 230-page London edition was set. This ‘received’ version was simply wrong…

The conclusion to be drawn from this review of the four Melbourne printings is that all of them are clearly different editions rather than impressions. In point of time, the first three Melbourne editions have absolute priority but the fourth Melbourne edition followed the London edition at some distance in time (and after more than 250,000 copies had been printed). The second case Taylor brought in 1890 demonstrates that, since the fourth edition had not sold out by then, the total number of copies actually issued of this edition may have fallen short of the 10,000 licensed by Hume in April 1887.

For a collector, any of the Melbourne editions is clearly the most desirable, even the comparatively late fourth edition. Any copy would be priced comfortably into four figures: a wrappered copy of the fourth edition, for instance, realised US$6,875 in September 2019. A rebound copy of the first edition would assuredly realise into five figures, while a fine copy in original wrappers would command considerably more. But these are all rare; even the fourth edition is only more ‘common’ in comparison to the utter rarity of the three earlier editions. Consequently, collectors usually make do with a copy of Fred Trischler’s London edition. But be warned: the London printings have their own complications.