Book Arts

The Rare Book Collection holds around 350 artists’ books, the majority of which are Australian made, with many created by Melbourne-based artists. The book arts can be traced back to illuminated manuscripts, and later important examples of illustrated books include the livre d’artiste, modern illustrated books and private press publications.

Artists’ books are usually handmade and are published in small editions, with the artist maintaining control of production. As such, they are varied in form and may include foldouts, unbound sheets presented in a box, scrolls, or traditionally bound books. In addition to the books themselves, the collection holds materials associated with production, such as preliminary notes, sketches, plans, woodblocks and lino cuts. These objects allow us to demonstrate the steps in the creative process leading to the finished artwork.

The collection includes examples of livre d'artiste by artists such as Picasso, Miro, Dali and Matisse, Tàpies, Léger, Braque, Calder, Chagall and Chillida. There are also works of Russian Constructivism, Futurism and Surrealism. The Gerard Vaughan, Ray Wilson and Ian Brown Collections of art, design and architecture reference books are another significant component of the collection.

Stanislaus Ostoja-Kotkowski Albums

These albums form the archive of one of the world’s earliest artists to work with laser, sound and image production, the Polish-born Adelaide artist Joseph Stanislaus Ostoja-Kotkowski (1922-1994). The Ostoja-Kotkowski collection comprises 15 volumes of artist’s albums compiled between 1956 and 1992 They include mainly photographs and press cuttings and document his career in stage design, murals, sculpture and holograms. The collection has been inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World register for Australia. The collection is not yet available via the library catalogue. For further information please consult this list.

Open book showing Kelmscott Press edition of Chaucer's works

Private Press Collections 

Includes significant or comprehensive holdings from important private presses including include Golden Cockerel Press, Kelmscott Press, Ashendene Press, Doves Press, Eragny Press, St Dominics, Trianon Book Club of California and Gregynog Press. Other private presses are covered selectively.

Kelmscott Press – founded by William Morris and operating from 1891-1898. These holdings are complete. Many titles are held in several copies with important individual features.

Ashendene Press – an almost complete set, many donated by Tony and Margaret Pagone.

Golden Cockerel Press – 214 titles printed between 1921 and 1976. These holdings are complete.

Book Club of California Collection – purchased in 1999 from the collection of John Gartner (1914-1998), proprietor of the Hawthorn Press. Gartner was comprehensive in his approach, collecting not only the books published by the Club (209 volumes), but also ephemera, such as the prospectuses, invitations to Book Club events, pamphlets describing the aims and activities of the Club and quarterly newsletters.

Strawberry Hill Press – the press of Horace Walpole (1717-1797), printed in his Gothic villa Strawberry Hill. The press operated 1757-1797. Although the collection only holds 5 of the 34 titles printed, these are significant both due to their rarity and because they form part of extensive holdings about Horace Walpole and his circle.

Publications by the London firm of William Pickering and his successors (1820-1900) – although not strictly private press, these are notable as they represent the finest commercial book production of the period. Still under active development, 47 titles of Pickering imprints are held in the collection. Many are important editions, and most were donated by Dr. Orde Poynton.