Australian societies

The rise of the use of bookplates occurred concurrently with the advent of printing from moveable type, whilst the collecting of bookplates arose in Britain in the early nineteenth century as an offshoot of the genteel pastime of collecting coats of arms into albums. The Ex Libris Society was formed in London in 1891 and lasted into the early years of the twentieth century. In Australia, bookplate collecting and owning a bookplate became the height of fashion among the cultured between the World Wars. In recent years, there has again been increasing interest in bookplates among book lovers and artists, and societies have been formed in Melbourne and Sydney.


Australian Ex Libris Society

AELS ann rep 1929On 18 May 1923, an exhibition opened at Tyrrell’s Galleries, Sydney, with over 200 Australian and overseas bookplates. William Moore’s notice in the Daily Telegraph of 2 June 1923 repeated the hope of organiser John Lane Mullins that the interest aroused would quickly lead to the founding of a bookplate society in Sydney. Indeed, within a month, a meeting was held at Tyrrell’s where Lyster Ormsby ‘detailed the scheme for the formation of the Australian Ex Libris Society … seconded [by] Percy Neville Barnett, [and] carried unanimously'.

   Soon after, William Moore's article ‘The charm of the bookplate’ in the August 1923 number of Art in Australia brought before readers 57 Australian pictorial designs from the previous 25 years. The Society remained in the public eye. At the visit of the Duke and Duchess of York to open the new federal capital of Canberra in 1927, both were presented with a bookplate designed by Adrian Feint, whilst a gift of a linocut design by G.D. Perrottet made to the young Princess Elizabeth in 1934 also attracted much publicity. As well, P. Neville Barnett sent copies of all of his sumptuous bookplate books to the Royal Library at Windsor.

   An annual booklet was issued listing Australian bookplates which had come to notice and reproducing a few, often tipped-in. Two further series were begun, a Journal and Bookplate artists, but in each case only a single issue appeared. Sydney meetings included talks provided by artists, collectors and others. During the 1930s, two bookplate competitions were mounted. The annual dinner for 1938 held at a Sydney café was a special occasion when Lane Mullins was presented with a portrait bookplate etched by J.B. Godson to mark his 15 years as society president.

   From its inception, the Society, whilst based in Sydney, encouraged membership in other states, which peaked at 185 in 1930. Lane Mullins' death in early 1939 and the outbreak of World War II led to the demise of the Society.


New South Wales Bookplate Club

Dissatisfaction wNSW BP Club members copyith the perceived poor status of artists led, in 1932, to the breakaway of Australian Ex Libris Society members led by Frank Clune to form the New South Wales Bookplate Club.

   The Club’s International Bookplate Competition captured the interest of all. Prominent supporters donated prize money in 13 categories. The competition was advertised internationally, with a notice appearing in the July 1932 Bulletin of the American Society of Bookplate Collectors and Designers. The Sydney newspaper Smith’s Weekly (8 October 1932) publicised the competition with a facetious article entitled ‘NSW Bookplate Club lifts depression with £41,’ noting that the competition was ‘an effort to encourage artists who are particularly affected by the present economic conditions’. Entries by 35 Australian and nine New Zealand artists, and 21 North American and Continental artists, were exhibited at David Jones’ Gallery, Sydney, in 1933.

   The Club issued two quality publications: the Founders’ brochure – No. 1 containing brief articles by Camden Morrisby about A. Feint, G.D. Perrottet and G.Gayfield Shaw, illustrated with 12 original bookplates; John B. Godson. Bookplates, with nine original bookplates, and a list of members as at June 1933 was produced with the assistance of naval hydrographer and book designer Lieut. G.C. Ingleton.

 The Club failed to markedly increase the status of artists and continuing financial problems led to its fading from existence during 1935.

 Aust BP Club newsletter 1

Australian Bookplate Club

Despite the demise of the Australian Ex Libris Society, interest remained strong in Victoria. On 25 November 1941 a meeting was called by ‘organiser’ John Gartner to form the Australian Bookplate Club with R.H. Croll elected as president and Gartner as secretary-treasurer. After six months, the club had 23 Victorian members, and 16 from the rest of Australia and the United States.

   Gartner utilised his typographic skills and his own Hawthorn Press to develop a vigorous, if brief, publication program. Following the Constitution and list of foundation members, he issued the Club's Newsletter in 1943 and 1944, and Checklists of the bookplates of Eric Thake and Eirene Mort. He also published under his own name a checklist of the Victorian etcher William Hunter. However, probably as a result of Croll's long illness compounded with the effects of World War II, there is no record that the Club survived beyond 1944.


Aust BP SocAustralian Bookplate Society

After a hiatus of some decades, interest in bookplates in Australia began to increase in the 1970s and 1980s, largely as a result of the bookplate commissions and collecting activities of art patron Patrick Corrigan. In this period also Melbourne publisher Robert C. Littlewood produced a number of monographs on bookplate artists. At the 10 September 1997 meeting in Melbourne of the Ephemera Society of Australia, Littlewood together with collector Edwin Jewell announced the formation of the Australian Bookplate Society, and newsletters were issued in 2002 and 2003. At present, the Society is focussed on promoting the art of the bookplate through competitions and a publication program; the Keith Wingrove Memorial Trust Australian Bookplate Design competition was conducted in 2013 and again in 2015 with many entries from Europe, Asia and Australia.



New Australian Bookplate Society

With the Australian Bookplate Society to some extent dormant, a need was felt to start an association based in Sydney whereby members would be able to  communicate their interests in bookplates through meetings and the organ of a regular bulletin. The concept of the NABS cricket bookmark2New Australian Bookplate Society was launched on 22 October 2005 by artist and gallerist Elisabeth Bastian and enthusiast Mark Ferson with an exhibition of bookplates held at the Stop Laughing This is Serious Gallery, Blackheath. A meeting to officially form the Society took place in Sydney on 22 October 2006 when the draft constitution was accepted and office bearers were elected. The aims of the Society were ‘to raise awareness of, and promote, bookplates as both a historic and a contemporary art form, and to bring together individuals with an interest in designing, owning, studying or collecting bookplates.’ At the time of writing, the Society has over 70 members, mainly in Australia and including a small number from New Zealand, United Kingdom and the United States.

   An illustrated, full-colour Newsletter is published each quarter; two indexes covering issues 1-20 and 21-40 have been published as supplements to the Newsletter. A Directory of members was published and a further edition is planned. A website features articles on interesting bookplates, a gallery of the designs of artist-members and an annual bibliography of articles published in Australia on bookplates. 

   The Society holds an Annual General Meetings consisting of formal business followed by an address from a guest speaker. In 2013 the first successful ‘Show and tell’ was held and the Society was invited by Kogarah City Council (Sydney) to mount an exhibition which was held over 24 July to 11 August and opened by Pat Corrigan AM. 

   The Society celebrated its 10th anniversary with its Bookplate Design Award 2016, open to art and design students from all Australian tertiary institutions. Over 140 designs were received from 100 entrants. The Exhibition Opening and Awards Presentation was held at the Art Gallery of New South Wales Research Library on 26 October 2016. Further events and specical publications are planned for 2018.

   The Society has received two donations of bookplates and related material: in late 2017, Kimberley Cole gifted bookplates and Australian Ex Libris Society (AELS) publications originally belonging to her great uncle John Noble Rogers of Pymble (Sydney).

   In 2018, through the good offices of the Society's then Honorary Secretary, Bronwyn Vost, the Society was gifted the nationally significant Eirene Mort Bookplate Collection by the artist's family. The Society expended some funds on conservation of the bookplate albums. More recently, Ms Mort's delighfully handwritten catalogue and approximately 1000 bookplate images have been digitised by the Society's Social Media Secretary, Jess Le; they can be viewed on the Society's Flickr page at

   Recently we registered the Society with the Australian Charities and Non-profits Commission, which requires the Society to provide a public benefit as a cultural organisation. This website, which among other information provides public access to all but the most recent issues of the Newsletter, together with articles, talks and exhibits from time to time, and our presence on the Facebook, Flickr and Instagram social media platforms, are the public faces of our activities.

   In 2023 we are celebrating the 'Centenary of bookplate collecting in Australia 1923-2023' as it marks 100 years since the formation in Sydney of the Australian Ex Libris Society (AELS). Some members of the present Society form a direct link with members of the AELS, and in particular Eirene Mort, whose bookplate collection we were gifted in 2018, was a founding member and Treasurer of AELS. We held the official launch in May of the Digitised Eirene Mort Bookplate Collection at the Art Gallery of NSW Library, a Queensland members' function was held in August at the Queensland State Library and a function for Victorian members is being organised in Melbourne for December. Additional publications to recognise the Centenary are listed on our Newsletters page.