State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 81 Autumn 2008


Fig. 1. Lionel and Philip Robinson.


Shane Carmody
William H. Robinson, Booksellers and the Public Library of Victoria

We have never before made such an offer to any library in the world and it springs from a genuine desire to assist you, to obviate the disadvantages of distance, and to share with you the unique opportunity which our great Phillipps purchase affords.
Lionel Robinson to Chief Librarian Colin McCallum, 30 June 1948


The offer, from the London booksellers William H. Robinson headed by the brothers Lionel and Philip Robinson (Fig 1), was for the loan of manuscripts from the collection of Sir Thomas Phillipps for display and possible purchase by the Library. Unsolicited and unexpected, it continued an association built over the previous two decades, which had resulted in the acquisition of rare printed books and eight fine manuscripts. Lionel Robinson proposed the loan to avoid disappointment in the highly competitive auction market where '…apart from the larger question of funds, it must be distressing to a librarian to give detailed consideration to a sale, and to take the essential steps towards making bids and, in the end, to be more often than not unable to secure the items'. Instead by exhibiting the books
…private gentlemen of substance could have an opportunity to inspect them and perhaps be inspired to make gifts to your library. A potential wealthy patron is more likely to be a layman than a bibliographer and, whilst technical descriptions may convey little to him, the actual handling of a glowing volume might bring a more definite reaction.
The reaction of the Trustees of the Library was to approve the proposal and they delegated the President, the Reverend Irving Benson, and the Chief Librarian, Colin McCallum, to make the selection from the list provided by the Robinsons. What was to become the last chapter in the story of the building of the State Library collection of medieval and renaissance manuscripts resulted in four more books being added to the collection, with a fifth ceded to the Franciscan Friars ultimately returning on long term loan.
Of the twenty five medieval and renaissance manuscripts in the collection of the State Library of Victoria, thirteen came through the firm of William H. Robinson, and the great Livy at the National Gallery of Victoria came from the same source. The commercial relationship coincided with the famous tenancy of the Robinsons at 16 and 17 Pall Mall and when this business closed in 1956 all records were destroyed. However the story of their dealings with the Library provides an insight into their ingenuity and salesmanship as much as it does to the ambitions of their client.1


The earliest policy of the Library excluded 'costly manuscripts' or books distinguished only by their fine bindings. Rare editions, some incunabula, and books in Latin and Greek, together with an extraordinary collection of bibles in ancient, modern and obscure languages graced the shelves, but the hand-made book was an item of only antiquarian interest. In 1901 the Library acquired a simple antiphonal from London, followed in 1902 by a late Dutch manuscript of Jerome's commentary on Isaiah, from a Melbourne bookseller. In 1910 two more manuscripts were purchased in London—the works of St Augustine and the Regimem Principum of Aegedius Romanus, followed in 1912 by a small thirteenth-century Paris edition of the bible, again from London. These were modest purchases at low prices, sought as simple examples of the hand-made book. In 1904 Alfred Felton bequeathed half his estate of £378,033 for a fund to purchase works and art objects of educational value calculated to 'raise and improve public taste'. The funds were placed under the control of the Trustees and Executors Agency Ltd with a committee established to make acquisitions on behalf of the Trustees of the Public Library, Museums and National Gallery of Victoria. This gave much greater scope for acquisitions, although the condition specifying 'works and art objects' served to limit these purchases to the visual or decorative. In the combined institution the Chief Librarian was the senior official and secretary to the Trustees. His responsibility was for the whole collection, so when in 1920 the Bequest acquired the Wharncliffe Hours, an illuminated manuscript of the finest quality, it was assigned to the National Gallery as a work of art and joined there in 1922 by the equally splendid Aspremont-Kievraing Hours.2
In the same year the Trustees were offered the collection of old master drawings, prints and samples of early typography collected by the late Robert Carl Sticht. The Felton Bequest Committee, uncertain of the legality of the Trustees' plan to split the collection between the Library (taking the typography) and the Gallery (taking the old masters) sought advice from the distinguished counsel Theyre à Beckett Weigall. Weigall pondered whether typographical specimens could be described as works of art, noted that the offer was undervalued, decided that his personal views should not prevail and finally advised that a decision to display the collection in different parts of the institution should not prevent its purchase. The opinion, ambiguous as it was, opened the door for the Trustees to recommend acquisitions by the Bequest for the Library, and a trickle of fine illustrated, printed books and fragments began to make its way into that part of the collection. Sticht's estate contained many rare books which were consigned to the Melbourne bookseller A. H. Spencer in 1923. The Library, from its own funds, acquired among other treasures three complete manuscripts, a fragment from a large antiphonal and an eighteenth-century scrapbook of miniatures. In 1926 the Library added a late fifteenth-century Book of Hours and a sixteenth-century printed and illuminated Book of Hours from the collection of the Adelaide lawyer J. T. Hackett. These highly decorated books were more expensive and were joined in 1929 by a late fifteenth-century French hours bought from R. M. Chirnside.3
The collection, though growing, was still modest, especially when compared with the riches in the Auckland Public Library or the Nicholson Museum at the University of Sydney. While the volumes in the Library were unlikely to attract much overseas interest, the purchasing power of the Felton Bequest certainly did. One London bookseller paying attention to the opportunities presented by the Public Library, Museums and National Gallery of Victoria was William H. Robinson. Founded in 1881 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the business developed expertise in manuscripts, rare books and incunabula under the leadership of the third generation, Lionel and Philip Robinson. They took over in the period after the First World War when the decline of the English country house and the turbulence in Ireland presented rich opportunities for private treaty sales of whole libraries. In 1930, as the world slid into economic depression, the brothers made the momentous decision to move the business to the grand Pall Mall address (Figs. 2, 3, and 4). The rest of the fine book-trade had established itself around Bond Street. The Robinsons were close to exclusive clubs and furnished their rooms in a similar fashion. With a decanter of sherry close to hand, confidential conversations with members of the nobility and the gentry anxious to realise on their assets, were made much easier.4
The brothers didn't confine their hunting to local fields. In 1931 Lionel travelled to Leningrad and secured a collection that formed the basis for their catalogue Manuscripts and Books from the Libraries of the Czar of Russia, a copy of which was sent to Melbourne. A. B. Foxcroft, the librarian in charge of the Rare Books collection, recommended in October that the Felton Bequest purchase three items, a twelfth-century glossed epistles of St Paul, a fifteenth-century French Book of Hours and a Parisian Book of Hours (Gilles Hardouyn) printed on vellum in 1507. His reasons were
there is a constant demand by Art Students, calligraphers, illuminators and others for examples of original manuscripts. While the ordinary inquirer is interested in facsimiles, the student requires the original, especially to study the method of applying the illumination, to appreciate the decorations, and to examine the actual vellum. Much use has been made of the few good manuscripts in the Library by those working on the rolls for the War Memorial.
Foxcroft's argument leant more towards educating public taste than acquiring works of art, and the Committee approved the purchase at their November meeting. Unfortunately by the time this was communicated to the Robinsons the two Horae had been sold. Not missing an opportunity, Philip Robinson sent with the Epistles two other manuscripts on approval, a substantial fragment of a French Book of Hours from Besançon, and a large Flemish Book of Hours for the Use of York. The latter caused great excitement, with a provenance (subsequently proved unlikely) linking it to Colard Mansion, William Caxton and Edward IV. The amended purchase was approved at the Committee meeting in March 1933 and the books were accessioned to the Library collection.5
The depression continued to yield bargains. At the sale of Lord Peckover's Library in April 1933 Robinsons had acquired for only £200 two ancient Syriac biblical manuscripts.
They had been prepared to bid ten times as much. Inspired by the success of their first sale to Melbourne they quickly offered them to the Library for £2,400. A week later they wrote again, this time offering for £650 a late thirteenth-century southern English Psalter of the Birds, so named for its life-like illustrations. Both were declined by the Chief Librarian, Ernest Pitt, without reference to the Committee. He explained that the Bequest stipulated items both educational and artistic. The Syriac texts would mainly be 'of interest to biblical scholars' and the absence of illumination or decoration placed them outside its terms. He admitted that the Psalter was a different case but more interesting as an example of the development of English art and
in a small collection such as ours, comprising only a dozen illuminated manuscripts, the need at present is rather for examples of brilliant illumination and decoration to serve as a foundation. Possibly in years to come, the historical aspect may be of interest; but at present the Trustees would, I think be more likely to appreciate manuscripts of a larger size or more freely illustrated.
The following month, the Bequest Committee sought advice from their lawyers on whether the terms of the bequest would encompass the recommendation of the Trustees for the purchase of a First Folio of Shakespeare on offer from Bernard Quaritch for £15,000. The lawyers provided an opinion stating that while the book was 'undoubtedly a work of genius it is not a work of art' and this served to limit the Trustees' ambitions, reinforcing the need for illustration or decoration in any books recommended to the Bequest. Meanwhile the Robinsons, responding to Pitt's advice, offered in November an eighteenth-century scrapbook containing 246 specimens from the thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries. This was recommended by Foxcroft, but the Committee referred it to its London Adviser L. Bernard Hall. Hall was uncertain and suggested it be sent to Melbourne for inspection. The Robinsons agreed, and added to the consignment a sixteenth-century Hours of the Virgin, four leaves from a French prayer book, and an illuminated miniature of Christ talking with the Doctors. Only the last was purchased by the Bequest and if this were an example of 'brilliant illumination' the Trustee's judgement was found wanting—it was declared a fake in January 1937 by Sir Sidney Cockerell during his visit to Melbourne.6
Acquisitions from Robinsons continued, with the Bequest buying in October 1934 a copy of the Universal System of Household Furniture by William Ince and John Mayhew and the Library from its own funds in the same month a copy of Pedro Fernandes de Queirós' Descriptio ac delineatio geographica of 1612. Both were, in their own way, bargains. A fine copy of Ince and Mayhew was advertised in Robinson's 1933 catalogue for £110 but the Bequest had to settle for a battered copy for the lower price of £90, made more palatable by payment in Australian currency. The de Queirós was at a good price because it lacked the American and Russian maps, subsequently provided in facsimile by the binder Rivière. In November Robinsons offered the two volume Blickling Hall manuscript of Livy. This had been part of the Marquis of Lothian's sale at Anderson Galleries in New York in January 1932, and was back on the London market at a lower price. The offer was referred to L.
Bernard Hall, who claimed no expertise in manuscripts and sought instead the advice of H. Idris Bell, Keeper of Manuscripts at the British Museum. His report noted that it was a composite work with each volume in a different hand, and expressed an opinion that the asking price was too high. The offer was declined.7
In August 1936 Lionel Robinson wrote to Pitt offering '…the finest Caxton we ever possessed'. The book, a copy of the second edition of The Myrrour of the World, was offered along with a thirteenth century Psalter-Hours from Liége. Referred to the Bequest Committee, they demurred on price and requested that the manuscript be sent to Melbourne for examination. Robinsons included the Caxton in the shipment and a third offering soon arrived in august company. Pilgrimage of the Lyfe of the Manhode and Pilgrimage of the Sowle—a fifteenth-century illustrated translation in Lincolnshire dialect of Guillaume de Deguileville's famous texts, had been sent by Robinsons to Sir Sydney Cockerell in Cambridge in July of that year, following the announcement of his appointment as the Felton Bequest Adviser. Cockerell, Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum for 29 years was an expert in manuscripts. He arrived in Melbourne for consultation with the Committee and the Trustees in December, and respectful of the reputation of their counsellor the Bequest approved all three items, although their consignment to the Library suggests they did not quite consider them works of art. Cockerell extracted agreement that he might purchase a major manuscript with the Committee setting a condition that 'artistic value was to be paramount'. Robinsons met that condition. In late January 1937 Lionel Robinson wrote to Pitt offering a manuscript Livy once owned by Antoine the Bastard of Burgundy. This large and lavish volume had been withdrawn at auction after achieving a bid of £4,400 in 1931, the depth of the depression, and was now on offer for the much lower price of £3,000. Pitt referred the offer to Cockerell now back in London, and by April the local representative of the Trustees and Executors Agency was writing to say that Cockerell '…is so strongly impressed by this manuscript that he has practically completed negotiations for its purchase'. The small note of disapproval over the independent attitude of the Adviser was to grow over the next two years, but the Committee approved the recommendation and the book joined those in the collection of the Gallery.8
The purchase of the Livy was a triumph for the seller and the buyer, but four other major items on offer from Robinsons suffered a different fate. In February 1937 another Shakespeare First Folio appeared on the market, from the library of the Duke of Newcastle at Clumber. Robinsons offered to bid for the Library, but Pitt in response 'greatly regretted' that this was outside the scope of the Bequest. In March of the same year Robinsons offered an extraordinary manuscript C Text of Piers Plowman. This had lain unnoticed by scholars since its purchase in 1807 by Thomas Giffard in the library at Chillington Park, Staffordshire, the ancient seat of his recusant family. Proposing the purchase Lionel Robinson correctly stated that 'only a manuscript of Chaucer would be comparable to it in importance'. At £2,000 it could only be acquired through the Bequest, which explains the annotation in Foxcroft's distinctive hand: 'This manuscript is of literary interest only and
has no artistic value declined by Books Committee 11/5/37 no further action.' More painful for Foxcroft, given his knowledge of incunabula, was the rejection in November of the Clumber copy of Pliny printed by Nicolaus Jenson in 1472, with an illuminated and coloured frontispiece incorporating the arms of the Florentine family Buonsegni. Foxcroft noted that it was 'a famous work, but difficult to bring under the Felton conditions'. In April 1939 Cockerell recommended a richly decorated manuscript Missal made in 1400 by Johannes de Behardin in Trisulti for Cardinal Sera, Bishop of Catania. Cockerell had been offered the book for the Felton Bequest through another agent for £2000 and rejected it on price, but now Robinsons acting for the Duke of St Albans were asking £950 and at this figure he considered it 'a desirable purchase'. Neither the price nor the rarity of the item impressed the Felton Bequest Committee and the recommendation was rejected. Despite these disappointments, a measure of the warmth between the bookseller and their customer can be found in the correspondence. Ernest Pitt had met the Robinsons during his overseas tour (funded by the Carnegie Foundation) in 1935. As the Coronation of George VI drew near, Pitt and his wife were invited to join the Robinsons on their balcony to watch the procession. Pitt declined, but asked if Miss Enid Joske, daughter of the Vice President of the Trustees, could take their place. The brothers proved charming hosts.9
The Library was on firmer ground when acting alone. In 1941 eleven items were selected from the Robinson catalogue. Comprising mostly first editions, including Newton's Principia, Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and Dickens's Sketches by Boz, it incorporated autograph letters from Samuel Taylor Coleridge and David Garrick as well as a fine third folio of Shakespeare. Unfortunately by the time the cable reached London, the Newton and the Shakespeare had been sold, but Lionel Robinson soon wrote to assure Pitt that another copy of Newton had been reserved for the Library. There followed correspondence on the merits of shipping the purchases as the war intensified, resolved in favour of caution, and they were placed in secure storage for the duration of hostilities.10


The war brought changes for the Library and its bookseller. Sir Keith Murdoch, alive with reforming energy, was elected President of Trustees in 1939 while Sir Sydney Cockerell, disheartened by constant wrangling over his recommendations, resigned as adviser to the Bequest. Pitt retired in 1943 and was replaced as Chief Librarian by Colin McCallum in 1945 after brief terms by T. Fleming-Cook and W. C. Baud. Murdoch, inspired by a report made by Cockerell during his visit in the summer of 1936 and 1937, took advantage of an appetite for public works as part of post-war reconstruction to win a promise from the government for new buildings for the Museum and Gallery, and won support from his co-Trustees for splitting the institution into its constituent parts. The promise of new buildings remained just that for 25 years, but in 1944 legislation was passed establishing separate trusts for the Library, Museum and Gallery plus a fourth for the buildings that they shared. The legislation also assigned the Felton Bequest for the exclusive use of the Gallery.11

Fig. 2. Sketch of the shop on Pall Mall

For the Robinsons the war gave them the opportunity for the greatest purchase of a private library ever imagined. Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792–1872) had amassed some 60,000 manuscripts and a major collection of art and rare printed books. He left his collection and his mansion, Thirlestaine House, in trust to his youngest daughter and her third son Thomas Fitzroy Fenwick. Phillipps' onerous conditions, forbidding Catholics access to the collection or the sale proceeds of any part of it were overturned in 1885, and Fenwick, a fine scholar, made twenty-two judicious sales of groups of manuscripts to support the running of the estate. Fenwick died just before the war and Thirlestaine House was requisitioned by the Ministry of Aircraft Production. The collection was stored in the cellars. Fenwick's successors in the trust had little appetite for restoring the library, and obtained a judicial ruling allowing the sale of the collection. The Robinsons entered as brokers, but attempted sales to Harvard and the British Museum failed for want of a list of the contents of the hundreds and hundreds of crates. The brothers then took a huge gamble,

Fig. 3. The main room in the Robinsons' store

and with a loan from merchant bankers secured with the pledge of their homes, business, entire stock, as well as half the proceeds of any sale from the collection, they purchased the manuscripts and printed books for £100,000 in February 1946.12
The announcement of a first Sotheby's sale of thirty-four Phillipps manuscripts to be held at the beginning of July 1946 caused excitement across the book collecting world. In Melbourne a copy of the catalogue sent by Lionel Robinson arrived in late May, and Sir Sydney Cockerell and Lionel Robinson were asked by cable on 19 June to confer and advise on seven items. Cockerell's diary records that he visited Sotheby's and conferred with Robinson on 27 June, and in a cable received the following day they recommended twelve items at an estimated cost of £20,050, requesting confirmation of the amount available. The immediate response was to confirm that the amount available was £2,500. A further exchange of cables sorted out confusion over the similarity of the numbers and possibly saved the careers of those running the Library. Cockerell and Robinson decided to focus on

Fig. 4. The back room in the Robinsons' store

Lot 15, a Dante manuscript '...likely to interest students of the Italian classics as well as confer great prestige on your Library' but when this sold for £2,800 they followed a different course. Cockerell's report written the next day captures the excitement:
Then to my amazement we got no. 26 (valued by us at £2,000) for £1,100. This is a magnificent and dated codex from the Medici library [Scriptores Historiae Augustae]. You doubtless know how greatly this exciting provenance adds to its interest and value
in the market. I consider this a most notable acquisition. I have seen the motto Omnium Rerum Vicissitude est elsewhere. It may give a clue to the identity of the scribe.
No.29 [Pontificale of Philippe de Lévis] another fine book in first rate condition fetched
£780, the exact amount of our estimate. And to fill up we were so lucky as to secure no.12, a fine French choir book of the Parisian school of Jean Purcelle, for £250 [Poissy
Antiphonale]. Italian choir books of the 15th and 16th century are fairly common.
French 14th century choir books are rare. For some reason this fell to Messrs Maggs for
£170 and they surrendered it to us at £250, an extremely moderate price.
Cockerell definitively identified the scribe of the Medici volume as Neri de Filippo Rinuccini on the basis of a now lost manuscript described in an 1860 Sotheby's catalogue. This letter and his offer to continue to act for the Library were politely acknowledged and filed away. Later scholars have speculated on the same attribution without knowing that the master had already answered the question.13
The sale was a success for the Library, given the very high prices achieved for many lots. For the Robinsons the total for 36 items was £55,190 and by June 1947 after two more Sotheby's auctions and private treaty sales the brothers were able to repay the loan and buy out the bank's interest. This was the 'great Phillipps purchase' referred to in the offer to the Public Library of Victoria in June the following year.


Reverend Irving Benson and Colin MacCallum enlisted the help of another Trustee, Fr William Hackett SJ, to select from Robinsons' list the manuscripts to be sent to Melbourne. The books arrived in late February 1949 in time for the Trustees to inspect them at their March meeting. The selection was judicious and included only one ecclesiastical volume, a thirteenth-century Franciscan missal priced at £450. The removal of access to the Felton Bequest freed the Library from the requirement to focus acquisitions on books that might be termed 'works of art'. None of the books were elaborately decorated, and they covered history, philosophy, law, science and literature, reflecting an attempt to add examples of different genre to a representative collection. A fine Boccaccio with 151 miniatures on offer for £3,000 was not selected, as its price in Australian currency would be too high, and as McCallum noted '…if any wealthy donor should wish to make such a gift to the Library a more important subject for his generosity (a Shakespearian quarto for instance) could be found'. The most expensive books were an eleventh-century Boethius De Musica and a thirteenth-century trio of Anglo-French romances including the only known copy of the Roman de Waldef. Both were priced at £1,250. A twelfth-century copy of Ptolemy's Almagest was priced at £1,000; a fourteenth-century compendium of military and medical texts including Martin of Aachen's Liber Acquisitionis Terrae Sanctae at £750; a fifteenth-century Spanish (thought at the time to be Italian) Josephus The Jewish Wars at £500; an eleventh-century copy of Druthmar's Commentary on St Matthew at £400; and a fourteenth-century compendium of English Laws at £300. All prices were in sterling and the total in Australian
currency amounted to £7,404. By comparison the total expenditure on library materials in 1949/1950 was £11,985.14
The target was ambitious, but the display of the books in the foyer, and an article in the Argus on 31 March soon won donations for the cause. The first gift of £5 came from that great stalwart of the Library, Percival Serle, and within four days the fund stood at £146/1/-with the largest donation being £100 from a member of State Parliament and leader of the Jewish community, Archibald Michaelis. On 8 April, E. H. Coghill, Librarian at the Supreme Court, wrote to express interest in acquiring the English Laws. The request was deflected with a polite note, and Mr Geoffrey Cohen, a wealthy Jewish industrialist with interests in Carlton and United Breweries, was persuaded to purchase the book five days later and present it to the Library. E. A. Mann promoted the cause on his popular 3AW radio program, 'The News Behind the News'. In an edition damning the 'illusory Beveridge plan' and the 'socialistic London School of Economics' as well as proposing the damming of the rivers in northern Australia, the manuscripts appeal was an 'opportunity for service'. Modest donations continued from businesses including G.M.H., T. C. Lothian and F. W. Cheshire, and on 21 April the Argus reported a gift of £100 in a single note from a 'Sandgroper' with the exhortation 'may a few Victorians follow the lead'. L. Bernard Hall's widow did so with an equivalent gift, and A. E. Rowden White gave £20, but the fund was rising very slowly and Cohen's generosity was appearing all the more extraordinary. S. M. Rigney from Day Trap via Chinkapook wrote on 31 May: 'Dear Sir, nine pence in stamps for the books kept over time and returned last Thursday. A donation of 10/- for fund for the purchase of rare books'.15
Father Hackett was given the job of raising funds from the Catholic community for the purchase of the Missal. His efforts won support from Archbishop Mannix, and businessmen John Wren and Patrick Cody, but only if it should go to the Central Catholic Library—placing him in an uncomfortable position of conflicting interests since he was its director. At their June meeting the Trustees took stock. The appeal had netted £664/3/6 in cash, and when added to the £1,200 remaining in the book vote for the year the Library could afford the Ptolemy and the Josephus. Retaining the books into the new financial year beginning on 1 July and assigning £1,229/7/6 from the new book vote would give enough to add the Boethius. On the Missal a compromise was reached. It would be ceded to the library at the new Franciscan seminary, St Paschal's College, Box Hill, on condition that it remain in Victoria, be available for loan, and should the college close, be offered first to the Public Library. Patrick Cody, leaseholder of Young and Jackson's Hotel, and owner of Jules Lefebvre's Chloe, provided the funds and it reverted to Franciscan ownership.16
John Feely, Acting Chief Librarian during McCallum's absence overseas, wrote to the Robinsons to ask for an extension to the loan. The brothers readily agreed, and informed him that they had a firm buyer for the Anglo-Norman Romances, requesting its return. Feely replied that in all likelihood the Druthmar and the Martin of Aachen were likely to be
returned, and in a press release expressed his disappointment on losing the Romances:
Possession of this volume would have lifted still higher the reputation that the Public Library of Victoria already enjoys among cultural institutions abroad. One of these days, some future Chief Librarian, will in all probability, have to send to England for a microfilm copy of a volume that his predecessors were forced to let slip through their fingers.
Feely appealed directly to Essington Lewis, the redoubtable Managing Director of BHP, and to the businessman and philanthropist Sir William Angliss, explaining with scant regard for legislation that '…by some legal twist, the Library is now debarred from any benefits under the (Felton) Bequest'. Angliss regretted that a £100,000 probate bill limited his ability to help worthy causes—Lewis was blunter, simply saying no. Miss Marion Craig was more generous with a donation of two guineas after Feely provided her with what can only be described as a High Anglican translation of the vernacular Latin prayer for sitting hens inscribed in the back of the Missal:
Let us pray. May the grace of Thy blessing, we beseech Thee O Lord, come down upon these eggs created by Thee: From which Thou has designed to procreate chickens that thy faithful who partake of them with thanksgiving to Thee may find them healthful food.
Public interest, in Feely's view 'mostly academic', was fading. The Robinsons informed McCallum during his visit to them in July that 1 September was the absolute deadline. The appeal was closed, having raised a total of £1525/12/11 (including the Cohen and Cody purchases) and funds were added to enable the Boethius, Ptolemy and the Josephus to be retained. Feely especially regretted that the Druthmar was to return, given its fine hand, and held out hope to the end but to no avail.17
The Robinsons, ever courteous, reported to Feely that another brother, H. H. Robinson, representative in Australia for Standard Cars, had visited the display and was most impressed. In Lionel's view 'future generations of Australians will be very grateful to the Library and the personnel who were instrumental in securing such fine manuscripts for the Australian continent'. In December 1953 a further offer of a loan for sale of fifteen manuscripts was made, but deferred by the Trustees for the centenary of the Library in 1956. Unfortunately this date coincided with the closure of William H. Robinson, forced on the brothers by a punitive tax of 90% on all future sales from the Phillipps collection. The very large remainder was placed in a family trust, and sales only resumed by auction and private treaty in 1964, with the final remnant sold in 1977 to the New York bookseller H. P. Kraus.18
The closure of Robinsons was regretted by The Book Collector, which noted that it would leave a gap in '…the peregrinations of those collectors who have been entertained in the small and sombre ground floor back, where so many notable volumes have changed hands', and continued with a wry comment on the Robinson style:
A few fanciful habitués maintained that the impressive morocco and calf bindings which lined the front-room contained nothing but the rarest wines and the finest cigars,
though Professor Gordon Ray of Illinois claims exceptionally to have pulled one out and found inside a book which he was very glad to buy.
Lionel Robinson's commendation to John Feely proved prophetic. The presence of a small, representative and in many cases high quality collection in Melbourne has made possible the exhibition The Medieval Imagination and the manuscripts stand as a reminder in an on-line world of the place of the hand-made book in the history of western knowledge.19


I would like to record my thanks to Professor David McKitterick, Dr Patrick Zutshi, Dr Stella Panayotova, Dr Christopher de Hamel and Professor Margaret Manion for their assistance in locating references to some of the manuscripts cited in this article.
VPRS 805/69 William H. Robinson Lionel Robinson to Colin McCallum 30/6/1948, McCallum to Robinson 19/2/1948.
See also MS 12885 State Library Archive, Minutes of the Public Library Trustees 5 November 1948.


Brian Hubber '"Of the Numerous Opportunities": the origins of the collection of Medieval Manuscripts at the State Library of Victoria' The La Trobe Journal Nos. 51 and 52 1993 pp. 3-7.


VPRS 805/26 Trustees and Executors Agency Ltd Opinion in the matter of the Sticht Purchase, Theyre à Beckett Weigall 10/11/1922.
See also Heather Gaunt 'The Library of Robert Carl Sticht' and John Arnold 'A Note on A. H. Spencer and the Hill of Content Bookshop' in The La Trobe Journal no. 79 Autumn 2007 pp. 5-26 and 27-30 respectively.


A. N. L. Munby Phillipps Studies No. 5: The dispersal of the Phillipps Library Cambridge University Press 1960 pp. 97-98.


Munby p. 99.
William H. Robinson Catalogue no 39, 1932. Items 1 (Epistles), 5 (Ms. Hours), 12 (Printed Hours)
VPRS 805/69 correspondence from 26/7/1932 to 8/5/1933. Foxcroft recommendation 10/10/1932. Robinsons to PLV re York Hours 1/4/1934.
PA 96/83 Minutes of the Felton Bequest Committee(FBC) 4/11/1932 first list; 17/3/1933 amended list.


Munby p. 99. Peckover sale Sotheby's 3-4 April 1933. Correspondence in VPRS 805/69 22/5/1933. Later offered in Catalogue 50, 1934, Item 1, sold to the Pierpont Morgan Library for £3,500 in 1934 (MS M.783, MS M.784).
On First Folio see John Poynter Mr Felton's Bequests Melbourne: The Miegunyah Press 2003 pp. 398-9; FBC 9/6/1933.
Psalter of the Birds VPRS 805/69 Pitt to Robinson 14/7/1933. Purchased by Robinsons at Sotheby's in 1933 described in Catalogue 46, Item 1, sold in 1935 to Lord Lee of Fareham. Part of a gift originally to Hart House, University of Toronto, retrieved by Lee in 1946 given by his widow to the Fitzwilliam Museum (Ms-2 1954). See Stella Panayotova 'From Toronto to Cambridge: The illuminated manuscripts of Lord Lee of Fareham' in Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society forthcoming.
18th century scrapbook in Catalogue number 50 at Item 11. Correspondence in VPRS 805/69 24/11/1933 to 16/7/1934; see also FBC 6/7/1934. Annotation dated 25/1/1937 re decision to remove the miniature from display. The leaf is recorded in the NGV stock-books, with no note as to any action as to de-accessioning, and is yet to be rediscovered.


Robinson Catalogue 45, 1933 Item 64, Ince and Mayhew. FBC 28/9/1934.
VPRS 805/69 correspondence May and October 1934. The Library sought the copy of Tyson
Oran-outang sive homo Silvestris item 401, catalogue 51, 1934 but this had been sold. 15/11/1934, 12/12/1934.
The Blickling Hall Livy purchased by W. K. Richardson in 1944, bequeathed to Houghton Library 1951 (Houghton f Ms Richardson 32). Correspondence 19/11/1934–15/3/1935. Poynter pp. 403-414.


VPRS 805/69 Robinsons to Library: 7/7/ 1936 to Cockerell re Pilgrimage; 19/10/1936 re Caxton; 30/1/1937 re Livy. Trustee Executors Agency 2/4/1937. PA 96/83 Minutes of Conferences between FBC and Felton Purchases Committee 25/9/1936; 23/11/1936; 18/12/1936; 15/1/1937; 29/1/1937. Liège Psalter Hours appears in Catalogue 50 1934 for £525, Bequest acquired it for £320. Offered in place of Psalter inspected by Pitt during visit to London but sold before.


VPRS 805/69 Robinson to Library: Shakespeare 4/2/1937; Piers Plowman 30/3/1937. Jenson 17/11/1937
Piers Plowman item 1 catalogue 62 (1937) and 65 (1938). Bought by Sir Louis Sterling who presented to the University of London 1956 (S.L. V.17) Known as copy A.
ANZ Bank Archives, Felton Bequest, London Advisers 2005-0238 Missal recommendation 27 April 1939 see FBC minutes 30 June 1939.


VPRS 805/69 correspondence 4/9/1941–6/3/1947 Catalogue 73 1941 items 5, 11, 132, 135, 152 (Dickens), 179, 191, 205, 211, 330 (Newton), 509 (Shakespeare). The Library purchased at the same time from the booksellers Davis and Orioli, Wallingford, Berks. 16 incunables for £789/15/.


See Shane Carmody 'Mirror of a World: William Caxton at the State Library' in The La Trobe Journal No. 77 Autumn 2006 pp. 5–22.


Alan Bell 'Sir Thomas Phillipps' in The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography accessed online 6 September 2007.
A. N. L Munby pp. 94–112.
Anthony Hobson 'The Phillipps Sales' in Out of Print and Into Profit—A History of the Rare and Second Hand Book Trade in Britain in the Twentieth Century edited by Guy Mandlebrote, London: The British Library and Oak Knoll Press 2006 pp. 157–163.


Sotheby and Co. Catalogue 1 July 1946 'Bibliotheca Phillippica' Sale list: Lot 15 Dante Divine Comedy to Charles James Fox; Lot 21 Christine de Pisan le Livre de mutation de fortune to Sir Sydney Cockerell £270.
BL Add. Ms. 52685 S. C. Cockerell Diary Jan-June 1946 Thursday 27 June; 52686 Diary July-Dec 1946 Monday 1 July.
VPRS 805/69 Cables to Cockerell and to Robinsons 19/6/1946; 28/6/46 confirming amount; from Robinson and Cockerell recommendations 28/6/1946; confirming purchases 3/7/1946; from Cockerell re auction 2/7/1946; on identity of scribe 8/11/1946 and 29/9/1946–manuscript now lost: a Josephus in Sotheby's Catalogue June 20–21 1860 giving inscription: Omnium rerum vicissitudes est Nerises Filippi Cini de Renuccinis manu propria scripsit 1492.


Trustees Minutes 4/3/1949. VPRS 805/69 20/12/48, 12/1/49.
The Boccaccio was listed in Catalogue 81 1950 item 17 at £3,750.


VPRS 805/69: Serle, Michaelis 31/3/1949; Argus 2/4/1949; re Laws, 8, 12, 13/4/1949; Mann Trancript dated 17/4/1949; Holden 20/4/1949; Lothian, Cheshire 21/4/1949; Argus 24/4/1949; White 27/4/1949; Hall 21/5/1949.


Celsus Kelly OFM 'One Chance in a Million—the story of how the Codex Sancti Paschalis came home to the Friars' in Provincial Chronicle, Province of the Holy Spirit, Australia, 1949 pp. 88–94.
Trustees Minutes 3/6/1949.


VPRS 805/69 Feely to Robinson 7/6/1949, Robinson to Feely 13/6/1949. Romances were listed in Catalogue 77 1948 and sold to Bodmer Library Geneva. 8/6/1949 to Lewis and Angliss. 1/4/1949 Craig to Library, 21/6/1949 Library to Craig.
Trustees Minutes 2/9/1949.
VPRS 805/69 Argus appeal closed 19/8/1949; Feely to Robinsons re Druthmar 26/8/1949, 3/10/1949. Druthmar sold to 2nd Baron Hesketh now on loan to Ruskin Library Lancaster University. Martin of Aachen was divided into two books and these were included in Catalogue 81 1950 at item 73 (Aachen) and item 75 (Medical Arnaldus de Villa Nova, John of Toledo, and three other medical tracts) each at £350. Robinsons wrote to the Library explaining this and obliterated the price in the copy of the catalogue they provided as the total for the two at £700 was lower than the price asked for the combined volume. The compendium volume was given the number 16398 in the Phillipps catalogue. The medical tracts are now in the Reynolds Library at the University of Alabama. The Aachen was sold at Sotheby's lot 285 4 February 1960 to Maggs Bros. for £4,200, a remarkable appreciation over a decade.


VPRS 805/69 Robinson to Feely 23/9/1949. Robinson to Library 16/12/1953. See Hobson.


The Book Collector vol. 6, Spring 1957 pp. 13–14.