Monday, 3 February 2014

Alex Thomson, Bookbinder

For most of the second half of the nineteenth century the Launceston Mechanics' Institute's library books were rebound locally by Alex Thomson. Many hundreds of the surviving titles carry  Thomson's bookplate and his distinctive brown half-leather bindings

A selection of W E Norris titles bound by Alex Thomson

Alexander Thomson, Jnr, a Scotsman, and his wife Isabella were both apprenticed as bookbinders at W and R Chambers in Edinburgh, later famed as the publishers of Chambers Encyclopaedia.
Alexander Jnr and Isabella came to Launceston under engagement to Henry Dowling, around 1849.
Dowling had printed and published a Tradesman's and Housekeeper's Diary in 1836, and a pirated edition of The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, in twenty-five parts from August to December 1838; they were followed by lithographed illustrations and in July 1839 by a bound volume, claimed to be 'the largest publication which has issued from either the New South Wales or Tasmanian Press'. Dowling helped to produce the Launceston Courier in 1840-42, the Teetotal Advocate in 1843, the monthly Van Diemen's Land Temperance Herald in 1845-49, and, most notably, John West's The History of Tasmania in two volumes in 1852.[1]

 Alex Thomson's plate from a copy of W S Hayward's Left to the World (c1900), 
LMI Accession No. 7120.

In 1853 Alexander, bookbinder, Charles Street, adjoining the Cornwall Chronicle office, advertised that he “executes every description of binding, both plain and ornamental, gilt or marble edge, Law, Music Books, Portfolios etc. Account books made to order."[2] In January 1854 Alexander was also advertising his “Cheap Toy Bazaar” in Charles Street, opposite the Star Inn.

According to the Launceston valuation roll for 1859 Alexander was occupying a house and shop in Charles Street between Brisbane and Paterson streets, but the next year he had moved to a house and shop further south in Charles Street, between York and Elizabeth streets. This would have been 144 Charles Street, premises which remained in the family for many years. [The address maintains a literary connection to this day as the location of Nicholson's Bookshop.]

 Another Alex Thomson plate, from Florence Marryat's Phyllida (new ed. 1883), 
LMI Accession No. 3178.

Alexander Jnr, died in Launceston on 20 April 1887. His son David Thomson, bookbinder, stationer and poster advertising agent, continued the family business until 1937 when he died on 27 April at his stationer’s shop, 144 Charles Street, at the age of seventy-five.
David's daughter, Isabella Jane Mead, was a notable Launceston historian, and Director of the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery from 1950-1953, the first woman to head a major public museum in Australia.[3]

[1] Isabella J. Mead, 'Dowling, Henry (1810–1885)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 4 February 2014.

[2] Launceston Examiner, 28 April 1853, p. 400, c. 4.


1 comment:

  1. These historical notes are just the kind of links between the LMI Collection and Launceston's past that affirm the importance of the work FOLMI can do, and the breadth of research projects the LMI materials can generate.