Monday, 3 August 2015

Craw & Ratcliff - Booksellers

The FOLMI volunteer team has been wintering in the comfort of the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery's reading room, sorting and listing the records of the Mechanics' Institute. One of the joys of filing the nineteenth century correspondence and accounts has been to see the variety of letterheads and billheads belonging to Launceston businesses.

Craw & Ratcliff billhead. click to enlarge
This ornate example was discovered by Anna Lynde last week and it belongs to a bookseller none of us had heard of before. We are indebted to Ross Smith, a member of the QVMAG staff, whose detective work revealed the sad story of Messrs. Craw and Ratcliff's brief appearance in the annals of the book trade in Launceston.

Their shop was established in Central Brisbane Street in 1887, after they took over the book and stationery business of Kerkham and Banks. Following some initial success and achieving a modest return from the business, they invested heavily in stock in anticipation of the Tasmanian Exhibition which was to have opened in 1890.

Most unfortunately for them, the Exhibition opening was postponed for a year, largely because of a shipping strike which affected all of the colonies. Its delayed opening left Leslie Craw, the senior partner, and Henry Ratcliff carrying £1600 of stock much of which could not be sold. In an attempt to trade out of difficulties they invested in the tea trade and were again left overstocked. The partnership's creditors had their stock revalued and the new valuation came in much lower, at £920. 

Insolvent, the partners were forced to close the business well before the Exhibition opened its doors in November 1891.

The small cash purchase by the Institute appears to be mainly aimed at younger readers – three titles from Ward Lock's 'Minerva Library' and a book from Martha Finley's Mildred Keith series are included.

A portrait of Leslie Craw, who was in his early twenties when he established the partnership with Henry Ratcliff, may be found on the excellent Launceston Family Album site maintained by the Friends of the Library, Launceston. Both Craw and Henry Ratcliff had previously worked for Hopwood and James Booksellers and were active in local sporting and musical circles.