State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 59 Autumn 1997


Leonard Slade, Bookseller

Leonard Slade was one of the best booksellers that Australia has produced. An astute buyer and an excellent mentor, he spent 65 years in bookselling and trained many juniors. This writer, who was one of them, owes a great debt to Slade for training him, not only in new books, but also in second-hand and rare books.
Slade was born at Clunes, Victoria's first goldfield town, in 1859. One of his grandfathers had been a chaplain at Port Arthur. Slade was educated at the local grammar school. He then worked for a carpenter. As this work did not appeal to him, he moved to Melbourne in 1874. He obtained a post at the Religious Tract Society, running messages and selling tracts. Slade did not take to this class of work, so Garnet Walch the writer, who belonged to a Hobart bookselling family, introduced him to the bookseller Samuel Mullen. Taken on the staff on Eight Hours Day 1876, he stayed with Mullen and his successors for 63 years. Mullen retired in 1889, selling out to his brother William (stationer), A. G. Melville (librarian) and Slade (bookseller). They conducted their business as Melville, Mullen and Slade. In the trade they were known as Melons, Muffins and Squash.
In charge of the book department, Slade looked after Alfred Deakin, whom he regarded as the greatest reader ever to set foot in the shop. John Macgregor, who had about 20,000 volumes, received Quaritch's catalogues from London. He would mark whole pages in blue pencil and then send them back. John L. Purves, a leading barrister, had a magnificent library, most of which came from Mullen's. Slade was to buy the books back for his firm. Other great readers were Theodore Fink and Sir Isaac Isaacs, both of whom I attended to years later. There was also William Howat, clerk to Sir William Clarke's family for 64 years. A bachelor and a devout man, he had 25,000 books, mostly in theology and philosophy.
In the financial crash of the nineties, Melville, Mullen & Slade was taken over by their creditor, McCarron, Bird & Co. Slade lost his equity and his name was dropped. The firm became Melville & Mullen. Retained as an executive, Slade was very bitter. His partners were able to buy their way out of the débâcle.
Discussing book auctions with a customer, Slade said that old Mr Hugh Gemmell was by far the best book auctioneer that Melbourne ever had. Slade lent two shillings and sixpence to Marcus Clarke and five shillings to Sir Henry Parkes. He never saw the men or the money again. Madame Melba, staying at Menzies Hotel, 'phoned through for some novels in French. Slade took the order and sent a selection to her. She returned them in a rage the next day. She threw them on the counter with a flow of not very elegant language, calling him an adjectival fool. “This was one occasion when I failed to please a customer”, said Slade.
The firm did a little publishing and a lot of marketing of British books in conjunction with their publishers. These included some of the early work of Ada Cambridge and Mary Gaunt, both of whom Slade knew well. In the case of the account of the Horn Expedition, edited by Baldwin Spencer in four quarto volumes (Ferguson no. 16071), the London bookseller's name, Dulau, was on the title-page, with Melville, Mullen & Slade's beneath it. The colophon shows that it was printed in Carlton by Ford and Son, the printers to the University of Melbourne. Mrs K. Langloh Parker and Jeannie Gunn were among others placed in London by Slade.
In 1939, after 65 years of bookselling, Slade retired to his beloved Mount Dandenong. He died there in 1954 at the age of 95.
John Holroyd