Books have always meant to tell us stories, but sometimes the stories of the books themselves can be just as fascinating. Robert Muir Old and Rare Books (Muir Books) specialise in some of the most historically important, outright intriguing and occasionally unbelievable books you’ll find anywhere in Western Australia. There are some books that date right back to the 15th Century, some that shed light on mysteries of the past, as well as historical maps that provide insight into the history of our state and the very area of Northbridge that Muir Books calls home. X-Press got a sneak peak into just what you can check out at Muir Books as they open their doors this Saturday, November 10 and Sunday, November 11 for Open House Perth 2018.
Predictable first question maybe, but what are the oldest and rarest books you have in the store?
There are lots of old and unusual books here, but the oldest item would probably be an original incunabula leaf from the first edition of Euclid’s Elements, published in 1482. Of particular interest to Open House architecture aficionados would be an edition of Palladio from 1796. Andrea Palladio (1508-1580) is considered the founder of modern architecture and the book has many beautiful plates. We also have books and maps which predate the European settlement of Australia, including the first image of Rottnest as seen by Vlamingh in 1696 and published in 1726.
Are there any where the story behind them and how they got to Perth is a mystery that you have never been able to solve?
We found some unusual and very heavy religious icons and we have no idea how they ended up in Perth. Sometimes we find signatures that we weren’t expecting, for example we recently acquired some books by C.J. Dennis and Henry Lawson and opened them to discover the signature of both authors.
Are there any books that you are so fond of you wouldn’t sell them?
I am very fond of the books that our wonderful bookbinder custom binds for us. For example there’s an early edition of Alice in Wonderland which he has bound in red leather with a custom-made rabbit. But sadly we can’t be too sentimental about our books. We see a huge variety of material come and go in the shop, though we do become attached to the more unusual items such as old photographs or West Australian ephemera. For example, we have an original panorama photograph of the troop ships leaving Albany in 1914 with the ANZAC soldiers on their way to fight at Gallipoli.
Is it true the building used to be a stable? Would anyone be able to guess the history of the building by looking at it now?
Yes, the building was a stable, for the horses who worked for the bakery across the road. It’s not immediately obvious, although some people have guessed the history without knowing. The level above was originally the hay loft, and the bookshop still has some of the original stable posts that divided the horse stalls.
For Open House Perth you will be holding a course on WA maps and art. Is there something about WA’s past or maybe even Northbridge where the store is that might surprise them?
Maps are fascinating because they tell a story. We have some of the earliest maps of WA, and sometimes the details are surprising. For example, that early image of Rottnest which shows the Dutch ships was pirated by the British who removed the Dutch ships from the image! It is often not the oldest books that are the most sought after. For example, we have in our private collection a locally-published paperback copy of a book about Barlow and Chambers (the latter was from Perth), who were hanged in Malaysia for heroin-trafficking. The book was suppressed and is now highly sought-after.
There will also be artist and author talks and music at the store, who can we catch and when?
We are still finalising the schedule, but we plan to have a smoking ceremony by a local Nyungar elder and cultural consultant, Walter McGuire. We will have a display of the work of our amazing bookbinder (Perth Bookbinding and Restoration), and of the carpenter (Hans from Swisswood) who custom-made our bookshelves. We will also show some plans of the conversion and renovation process from stables to bookshop. Local artist Leon Pericles will be giving a talk on techniques of printing and engraving, and Grant Stone will be giving a talk on book-collecting. There will also we hope be occasional acoustic music from local performers in the stable courtyards.
Muir Old and Rare Books are opening their doors for Open House Perth 2018
Where: 17 Lindsay Street, Perth
When: Saturday, November 10, 10am – 4pm & Sunday, November 11, 10am – 4pm
Learn more here.