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The Creative Issue – News for Creatives | November 22, 2019

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Archives Fine Books goes digital

Archives Fine Books goes digital

| On 27, Aug 2013

Brisbane’s best-known bookshop has gone (partly) digital, with a tiny fraction of its titles now catalogued online.

Luckily, Archives Fine Books doesn’t feel any different.

Shelves still threaten to splinter beneath the Byzantine logic connecting Douglas Adams to Michael Leunig, or animal husbandry to tabletop gaming.

Dust still catches the afternoon sun, and aimless meandering is still the only way to find anything (although never what you intend).

But rarer items are being painstakingly detailed and photographed for the store’s website. The Sisyphean task belongs to Dawn Albinger, who runs Archives with partner Hamish Alcorn.

“We get a lot of people walking in who are just looking for a book to read,” Albinger says.

“But the collectors out there won’t necessarily be walking in every day. It’s amazing that Archives has survived 25 years without a website.”

Fittingly, the building itself stretches back to John Mills (or John Mills Himself, as the facade cheekily proclaims) – a Brisbane publisher operating after the first world war.

“People think that just because a book is a hundred years old that it’s going to be valuable, but that’s not necessarily the case,” Albinger says.

“In the 19th century they started getting into mass production so there’s just millions of them out there.”

Well, what does make a book valuable?

“Personally, I’m really attracted to things published in the early 20th century with an art nouveaux influence. They have really thick paper, wide margins, beautiful design elements.”

Otherwise it’s all down to the simple law of rarity – old editions and obscure topics are always in.

Here are my favourites from the Archives Fine Books online catalogue.


History of the Theories of Aether and Electricity (E.T. Whittaker 1910) $190

Like all science books, you aether get it or you don’t.

A Martyrologie (Samuel Clarke 1652) $4,950

“Containing A Collection of all the Persecutions Which have befallen the Church of England Since the first Plantation of the Gospel To the end of Queen Marie’s Reign.”

Diseases of Females (Dr G.H.G. Jahr 1856) $245

Who said homeopathic medicine couldn’t also be sexist?

Arcadia (Sir Philip Sydney Knight 1633) $11,900

This historical blockbuster was already in its eighth edition. Spoiler alert: Basilius doesn’t really die.

The Little Green Road to Fairyland (Ida Rentouil Outhwaite 1948) $350

A beautiful children’s book, despite the lack of absinthe.

The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (Signed and illustrated by Niroot Puttapipat 2009) $1,990

“I often wonder what Archives buy one half so precious as the stuff they sell.”

Images by Archive Fine Books.