Friday, July 11, 2014

Stanley Larnach and J.P. Quaine: Forgotten Australian Collectors of “Penny Bloods”

Book dealers and book collectors are often the unheralded historians and bibliographers of literary genres and movements.  In science fiction, fantasy and supernatural fiction, none can doubt the importance of the work of book dealers and collectors like George Locke and Lloyd Currey in bringing to light forgotten authors and books.  Over the years Australia has produced important collectors whose bibliographies have become standard works in the field.  Most notable are Don Tuck and Graham Stone, both of whom are internationally regarded for their work.  Graham Stone is particularly important for his focus on Australian science fiction and fantasy, and his Australian Science Fiction Bibliography (2004) is a landmark volume.  In Fact, Australia has quite a long history of book dealers and collectors with an interest in fantasy and horror literature.  Michael Anglo’s Penny Dreadfuls and other Victorian Horrors (1977) mentions two Australian collectors of “penny dreadfuls,” the short gothic chapbooks that were so popular with the reading public in Britain in the first half of the nineteenth century:

Montague Summers.....was certainly fooled by [John. P. Quaine,] an extremely knowledgeable Melbourne bookseller with a sense of humour, who issued an important catalogue for collectors in the 1930s. Stanley Larnach, a writer and collector of ‘dreadfuls’ who lived in Sydney, New South Wales, and was a leading member of the Book Collector’s Society of Australia, said that Quayne’s catalogue included two beautiful ‘dreadful’ titles: ‘The Skeleton Clutch; or, The Goblet of Gore’, a romance by T. Prest issued in penny parts (E.Lloyd 1841); and ‘Sawney Beane, the Man-Eater of Midlothian’ by T. Prest issued in penny parts (E.Lloyd 1851). Montague listed both of these splendid titles, which were Quayne inventions, in his Gothic Bibliography.

Stanley Lorin Larnach (1900-1978) is known for his Materials Towards a Checklist of Australian Fantasy (to 1937), a short chapbook that was published by Vol Molesworth’s Futurian Press in 1950, which was the first attempt to provide a bibliography of Australian science fiction, fantasy and supernatural fiction, and which was modeled on Everett Bleiler’s celebrated Checklist of Fantastic Literature (1948).  He was one of the small hard core members of the Sydney Book Collectors’Society, and it was there that Graham Stone met him.  According to Stone, “[Larnach] became interested in SF and first met the Sydney group in 1947 through his interest in Arkham House and writers like Lovecraft and Hodgson.  In fact, Larnach wrote an early two-part article on Lovecraft for Biblionews, the journal of Australian book collectors.

Larnach was born on l Jan 1900 in country New South Wales.  He worked on the land after he finished school and did military service during World War I, ending up in England at the end of the war.  He returned to Sydney where, according to Stone, “he made himself a practical field zoologist”, and spent three years in New Zealand where he worked as a bookseller.

He began a long career in Sydney University's Anatomy Department in 1922, at first as a freelance worker.  Eventually he became one of the world experts on human skull, specialising in the craniology the Australian Aborigine.  He was also a great collector of Australian fauna, starting with the littoral fauna of the coastal areas to rare marsupials of the outback, “searching over vast tracts of outback country, cameling over the deserts and taking part in pioneering research on the then untouched stone-age natives.”  At the time of his death on 22 August 1978, his magnum opus, Australian Aboriginal Craniology, was with the printers.  He never had a degree, but was awarded the second ever honorary M.Sc. by the University of Sydney after he retired.

Another great passion was book collecting, especially gothic novels and “penny dreadfuls”, which, given their age and ephemeral nature, are extremely rare.  For Biblionews he wrote on bibliographic subjects as diverse as the care and conservation of books, Rabelais, a bibliography of the Penny “Bloods” published by Edward Lloyd, a Jack Bradshaw checklist, and Ned Kelly, amongst others.

Graham Stone summary of Larnach’s interest in books and book collecting is worth quoting at length:

Stan was a mainstay of the Book Collectors Society of Australia, and a wide-ranging, critical collector. He loved books and delighted in exploring fine points, but he vas more concerned with the endless adventure of understanding that books are made to carry on. He knew what scholarship was all about, and many of his friends learned something of it from him. He was profoundly interested in history and all it implies and in many branches of creative writing, with something to contribute to any discussion. He enjoyed writers as diverse as Rabelais and Robert E. Howard, was an early follower of Mad, and a connoisseur of the limerick. Truly we will miss him.

Interestingly, the State Library of Victoria holds Larnach’s papers.  The summary catalogue entry describes the collection as follows:

Scrapbook of “bloods”, late 1940s-1950s, comprising press clippings, illustrations clipped from journals, published bibliographies of penny bloods, book sales, lists of penny dreadfuls and penny bloods; also, seventy letters from the Melbourne bookseller J.P. Quaine (1951-1957 [sic]) to Stanley Larnach, Walter W. Stone and J.K. Moir; two photographs of J.P. Quaine; original artwork by the English book collector Henry Steele, a photograph of him and two letters from him to Stanley Larnach.

Clearly, there as much of interest here for the student of “penny dreadfuls” and of early Australian bookselling.

Stanley Larnach’s writings are virtually the only record we have of the early Melbourne book seller John P. Quaine (1883-1957), from whom Larnach acquired most of his collection of penny dreadfuls. 

What follows are two articles Larnach wrote for Biblionews about Quaine.  They make fascinating reading, and the second article, a review of Montague Summers’ A Gothic Bibliography (1941), is obviously the source of the story from Anglo’s Penny Dreadfuls and other Victorian Horrors quoted above.

Veteran Melbourne Bookseller – The Late J.P. Quaine (Biblionews, Vol. 10, no. 9, September 1957).

A clipping from a Melbourne newspaper brought me the sad news that Mr J.P. Quaine has died.  He was described in the clipping as “the last of the antiquarian booksellers” and was certainly one of the most knowledgeable booksellers in Australia.  His knowledge of nineteenth century books and periodicals was amazing, and his memory rarely required confirmation from references.  Whether the subject was “bloods” or “penny dreadfuls,” bushrangers and Australian crimes or the songs the diggers sang on the goldfields, he was an inexhaustible mine of information.  His knowledge of books was not confined to the sort of information given him in the bibliographies and booksellers’ catalogues, for he was much more interested in the contents of the books themselves.

The newspaper clipping says that Mr Quaine died at the age of 70.  In a letter to me dated early 1953 he wrote that he had attained his 70th birthday, and in conversation he told me that he was born in 1883.  His age was thus 74.

He was born in Bendigo during the first week of January 1883.  In an article published about 7 years ago called “My Bookhunting in Bendigo Sixty Years Ago” he describes his boyhood.  “My natal place” he wrote, “was Nolan Street just on the border of Irishtown.  I’d like to mention that this term was not bestowed on the hallowed region in any derisive spirit.  Irishtown was a proper postal address, as can be seen by consulting newspaper files of the fifties.  My home was about a mile from the post office, and so situated that it formed a focal point, so to speak, for a peculiar mingling of odours.  The creek itself, until about 50 years ago, was simply an open sewer running right through the city, sludge from the mines, liquid refuse from an hospital, a benevolent asylum, several breweries, and most of the residences along its edges, with an occasional dead cat or dog, or even a larger animal lying half buried in the mud all helped to create an odiferousness without parallel.”

This brief quotation gives some indication of his style.  In his writings and conversation he was forthright and unambiguous, and running through both was that strong sense of humour so characteristic of his personality.

In conversation Mr Qauine has often told me of the happy years he spent in Bendigo.  In the article just quoted he wrote: “The happiest hours of my boyhood were those spent amongst books.  I was surrounded by them from my babyhood, and as soon as I was able to forage for myself, though I had barrowloads of books on all sides, I went searching for more.”  The article then describes his book-hunting adventures.  Books were bought from bookshops, from second-hand shops selling miscellaneous goods, or retrieved from rubbish dumps deposited in old deserted claims, in one of the many gullies, and along the Bendigo Creek.  “I prospected these tips for old books,” he wrote, “and often dug out some tattered oddment which seemed to my simple soul to be a treasure.”  It was in those days he laid the foundations of his collection of “bloods”, which later grew to be one of the best in the world.  It was then too, that he developed those tastes which led him to enter the second-hand book trade.

Before this happened he had moved to Melbourne, married, and earned his living as a wood-working machinist.  But his book-hunting and reading were not abandoned.  The field was wider and more profitable in Melbourne.  In 1916 he opened his first bookstall in the Prahan Markets and before the year ended he was in business in his bookshop in Commercial Road which he carried on for over 40 years.

His occupation now being congenial, it was not long before he commenced writing articles on the books he loved and on crimes and life last century.  These were mainly published in Melbourne newspapers, although quite a number of his articles on crime appeared in the Sydney Famous Detective Stories.  He also contributed to English amateur journals which specialized in the field of “bloods” and old boys’ books and journals.  With the advent of radio he broadcast many talks on these and other subjects.  Many of his articles and stories would repay collection and republication in book form.

Through all his bookselling and writing activities he yet found time to carry on a voluminous correspondence with many people, and was ever prepared to help with advice and information all who sought his help.  On this I can speak from personal experience.  He was always ready to share his knowledge.  I once wrote to ask him Ned Kelly could read and write.  The answer was prompt:  “Yes.  He could.  That scrap of autobiography which Turnbull built into classic English (alleging after that Kelly had literary genius) was written by Ned.  The headquarters of the Methodists in Melbourne has his signature in their records.  He was the only witness who did not sign with a mark at his mother’s wedding when she married King, her second husband.  The wedding took place at the Benalla Methodist personage.”

It is a great pity that he never wrote his memoirs, or at least a book on the old booksellers of Melbourne.  The yarns he told me were too good to be lost, but I am afraid that is what will become of them.  Some day a bibliography of his writings may be made.  I have a few of them, and have seen a few others, but there are many I have never seen.  It is a task that is difficult now.

Mr Quaine was a great help to me both in starting and building up my collection of “bloods”.  The great bulk of my collection of these items came from him.  This may help to answer, at least partly, a question which seems inevitable among bookmen.  He once wrote to me of the death of a well known Melbourne collector and commented: “He has some nice Australiana.  So there will be another ghoulish rush for the rare items.  Has it ever struck you what a hungry lot of unfeeling wolves collectors are?  Some chap dies and the first comment is “What will happen to his books?”

Mr Quaine contributed a few articles to Biblionews, the last to appear being a short story called “The Duke and the Dustman’s Daughter.”  His failing health prevented him from contributing more.

We have lost a good friend, a helpful bookseller and a fellow collector.  He leaves behind his widow, three sons and a daughter to whom we extend our deepest sympathy.

“The Skeleton Clutch; or the Goblet of Gore.”  A Consideration of Montague Summers’ “A Gothic Bibliography.”  (Biblionews, vol 5, no 2, February 1952).

Having lately acquired a copy of this Bibliography and having given it some attention, I feel that I should now give it some comment.  It is a large volume of 621 pages of text, with many plates illustrating title-pages and other points.  Although it is called a bibliography in the title it is more accurately described as a checklist.  The work is divided into two sections, the one alphabetical, the other an author list.  The period covered is much more extensive than the few years during which the Gothic Novel was fashionable.  But Michael Sadleir has pointed out in an essay on the Northanger novels: “The Gothic novel crashed and became a vulgar blood.”  The “bloods” or “penny dreadfuls” are included in this book.  The earliest entry Summers gives is dated 1728 and the latest is as recent as 1916.  The conditions of entry appear sufficiently liberal to admit of borderline cases.

The reading of this bibliography is a sheer delight.  It exposes our ignorance and restores our humility even if it sometimes strains our credulity.  It was a revelation to learn that “The Memoirs and Adventures of a Flea, in which are interspersed many humorous anecdotes,” issued in two volumes in 1785 is “really to be distinguished from the well-known erotic book “The Autobiography of a Flea” published about 1837.  And although the works of the Marquis de Sade are merely legendary in Australia, it is interesting to read the seven and a half pages devoted to his books by Summers.  Information is given about the various editions of John Cleland’s “Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure” which is more familiar to us as “The Memoirs of Fanny Hill.”  We note that “The Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk” was first published in New York in 1836 and appeared later in the same year in London where it sold at half-a crown.  Nine and a half pages are absorbed by the various editions of Mary Braddon’s novels and nearly fourteen pages by the works of G.W.M. Reynolds.  Extremely popular about the middle of last century Reynolds is almost forgotten now.  Among his most popular works were “The Bronze Statue; or the Virgin’s Kiss”, and “Mary Price; or the Memoirs of a Servant Maid.”

The well-known Gothic Novelists are all here – Mrs Radcliffe, “Monk” Lewis, Maturin and so on.  But information about them is easily obtainable so we pass on to a leter period when we find that Gothic tales have ceased to be favoured in “Society” but have become more popular than ever before as they are now reaching the poor.  Before this could happen a change had to be made in publishing methods.  This took the form of publishing books in parts – and on the lowest level, in “penny parts”.  The most successful publisher of penny parts in the early period was Edward Lloyd who attained, along with Ned Kelly, the honour of having his biography included in the Dictionary of National Biography.  He published about 200 books in one or two issues of Penny numbers.  He was, however, not without rivals.  It is doubtful if any of Lloyd’s writers had a popularity exceeding that of Pierce Egan, Junior, whose books were published in penny parts by other caterers to the public taste.  Egan’s most popular books were “The London Apprentice and the Goldsmith’s Daughter of East Chepe,” “Quentin Matsys, the Blacksmith of Antwerp” and “Robin Hood and Little John.”

The most prolific and popular scribes of the Lloyd school were Rymer (or “Errym” – an anagram of Rymer) and Thomas Peckett Trest.  They turned out the blood-and-thunder penny numbers which first earned the name of “bloods” or “penny dreadfuls”.  Occasionally the author was named but usually the tale was by “the author of such-and-such or so-and-so.”  Among the books attributed to Prest by Summers are “Varney the Vampire; or the Secret of the Grey Turret.”  The British Museum Catalogue gives Varney to Rymer and some think he wrote the other one.  Whether or not Prest did write them, others of his titles seem equally bloodthirsty: “Adeline, or the Grave of the Forsaken” (described by J.P. Quaine as “issued in 52 most fearsomely illustrated numbers”); “The She Tiger, or the Female Fiend”; “The Maniac Father; or the Victim of Seduction”; “Pedlar’s Acre; or the Murderess of Seven Husbands.”  Something like a hundred books are attributed to him.  While recognizing that Prest had an enormous output, one feels that Summers has leaned over backwards in listing titles under his authorship.  For example he lists the two following: “The Skeleton Clutch; or the Goblet of Gore”, a Romance of T. Prest.  (E. Lloyd, 1842); and “Sawney Bean, the Man-eater of Midlothian,” by T. P. Prest, in penny numbers (E. Lloyd, 1851).  Both are quite good titles invented years ago by Mr J.P. Quaine as a joke.  It is amusing to think that Summers accepted as genuine for over twenty years two fictitious titles of non-existent books.  They must have seemed of the utmost rarity.  This raises an irritating doubt.  Did Summers actually see “The Memoirs of an Hermaphrodite,” by Pierre Henri de Vergy, London, 1772?

I have a practically perfect copy of “The Blue Dwarf” in 36 penny numbers with all the 18 folding plates (16 of them coloured), published by Hogarth House and written by Percy B. St John.  Summers wrongly dates it at about 1870.  It is advertised as “coming out” in penny numbers in some Hogarth House “Jack Harkaway” stories.  This and other points would tend to place it about 1878.  Summers also lists an earlier “Blue Dwarf” (of which I have never heard) issued in 60 numbers by E. Harrison in 1861.  He said this was the “original Gentleman George version,” whatever that may mean.  Similarly I have the Hogarth House “Black-eyed Susan, or Pirates Ashore” by George Emmett which was issued in 12 numbers.  Summers lists an earlier “Black-eyed Susan, or the Sailor’s Bride” issued by Lloyd in 50 numbers in 1845.

In the early thirties Mr J.P. Quaine, a Melbourne Bookseller, who wrote an interesting number for Biblionews (“Brothers of the Blood”, 1951), issued a catalogue of great import for collectors of “bloods”.  On checking it against this Bibliography I find some startling omissions.  It seems a pity that Summers, or his assistants, missed the following:

1.  The Wild Witch of the Heath; of the Demon of the Glen, (Lloyd 1841)
2.  The Secret Cave; or the Blood Stained Dagger, 1812.
3.  Melina, The Murderess; or the Crime at the Old Milestone.
4.  The Wife’s Tragedy; or the Secret of the London Sewers; 104 parts, 1850.
5.  The Cannibal Courtesan, 1866.
6.  The Parricide Priest; or the Murder in the Monastery, 1842.
7.  Mabel, the Marble Hearted; or the Outcast’s Revenge.
8.  Mabel; or the Ghouls of the Battlefield (E. Lloyd) 55 parts, 1846.
9.  The Lady in Black; or the Wanderer of the Tombs (Prest), 1844.
10.  The Dance of Death, or the Hangman’s Sweetheart, 1874.
11.  Jessie the Morgue-Keeper’s Daughter, 1845.
12.  Mysteries of a Dissecting Room, 1846.
13.  Mysteries of Bedlam; or the Annals of a Madhouse.
14.  The Young Apprentice; or the Watchwords of Old London (Brett).
15.  The Outlaws of Epping Forest (Hogarth House).

Although there are omissions many of the penny dreadful school stories are included.  There are Australian references too in “Jack Harkaway in Australia,” “Ned Nimble amongst the Bushrangers,” and “Blue-Cap The Bushranger.”  Omissions and mistakes are likely to occur in pioneer works especially where the field is as large as this.  It would have been almost impossible for Montague Summers to have seen every item listed in his “Gothic Bibliography.”  It is a worthy effort and the most useful, even if the only, checklist in this field.  It should however be used with caution.


Stan Larnach, as well as being a “Brother of the Book” is a true “Brother of the Blood” and is at present busily amassing a collection of “penny dreadfuls” complete with plates.  It’s no use anyone going up to him and asking: “Why do your shelves drip wi’ bluid, Stanley?” unless they are prepared to answer truthfully whether they know where some of these books may be found.  He’s in the market for such items and his address is, Meymott Flats, Meymott Street, Randwick, N.S.W.


  1. I have an almost complete set of Biblionews and so had some appreciation of Stan Larnach's importance as a collector and his role in the Sydney branch of the ABCS. So, I've wondered why he doesn't appear in Charles Stitz's 5 vol. 'Australian Book Collectors'. I realise that it wasn't possible to include everyone but Stan should "be there". James Doig; Can I use this material to write an article?

  2. No problems at all - feel free to use whatever you like for your article.