Saturday, July 17, 2010

J.P. Quaine - A Blood and Thunder Merchant

I've mentioned the Melbourne bookseller, John Patrick Quaine (1883-1957) a few times on this blog. He was a well-known identity in Melbourne and a keen collector of Penny Bloods and Dreadfuls. Following is a short article about him, published in November 1945, that appeared in Bohemia: the All-Australian Literary Magazine, a rather grand title for the official organ of the Melbourne Bread and Cheese Club, of which Quaine was a member for many years.
A Blood and Thunder Merchant
During the month the Worthy Scribe spent a bloodcurdling hour or two interviewing the Sanguinary-minded Fellow J. P. Quaine, the Bookaneer, and discovered it is just on 30 years since this gory Fellow burst into being as a bookseller like a bolt from the blue. Previous to that period his predatory performances had been confined to part-time prowling round secondhand bookshops, vainly seeking what the bookseller had already hunted for and failed to find ‑ a five pound book for four pence! He has since watched with a leaden eye similar optimists delving midst his own piles of dusty impedimenta. Though better known in recent years as a collector of "skulps," "Shilling Shockers" and "Penny Bloods," his collection of British First Editions was noteworthy. He specialised in this type of publication. His avaricious spirit often caused him to keep for himself the more desirable items; so he was never quite sure if he could be called a collector or salesman!

However, the probe of impecuniosity compelled him to part from many of these cherished volumes. Since 1917 he has been a thorn in editorial cushions. Whenever his constitutional laziness could be overcome, he contributed special articles to the magazine supplements of the Melbourne papers, as well as inflicting his outpourings on interstate and even oversea editors! Being a dyed-in-the-wool Dickensian, he (by request) gave lectures and papers under the Auspices of the Melbourne Fellowship. As an additional example of the enormities he was capable of he compiled, in 1942, 30 talks, entitled "Tales of Terror Tactfully Retold" for the ABC. He has two testimonials upon which he preens himself. One is from Public Librarian Pitt thanking him for his assistance and exhibits during the Saturnalia attendant upon the Picwick Celebration in 1936, the other is from the late C. J. Dennis written in reply to a query in connection with "Herald" articles. It concludes thus: "I have your 'Duke and the Dustman's Daughter' here, which I am going to use. I shall be pleased to accept articles by you written in your inimitable style." Fellow Quaine says he would frame this note only he fears the green ink signatures might fade.

Quaine admits that during the last few years his notoriety has waned somewhat; a new generation is rising that knoweth not Joseph. He has done everything but make money, and expects to finish up selling matches round the pubs!


  1. Fascinating history. I was unaware of John Patrick Quaine. Thanks for the post.

  2. Thanks David. Funny how book hunting doesn't change over the years - only now we're looking for the 100 dollar book for a fiver.