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Alec Bolton

'I hear that those new people have decided to have books in their library,’ remarked Edith Wharton disdainfully. That put-down, from an eminent novelist and book lover who was also a wealthy member of upper-class New York society, was delivered without ambiguity in the 1920s. The ‘new people’ were using books as interior decoration. They would never disturb the display of handsome volumes in their unused library by taking one from the shelf. Could they even read? Probably not, Wharton thought: they had been too busy making money.

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When I began work on A Maker of Books, I had no idea that Alec Bolton had succeeded ‘Peter Pica’ (the publisher and bookseller Andrew Fabinyi) as a pseudonymous critic of Australian book design and production for Australian Book Review. He called himself ‘Martin Em’. I had set out to explore in detail Alec’s achievement as a letterpress printer of distinction at his private Brindabella Press, and also his long career in Australian publishing, but this was an unexpected discovery. The clue was a letter from Alec to John McLaren, the then editor of ABR, which I found in a completely unrelated file in the Alec Bolton papers at the National Library of Australia. When I looked at Martin Em’s ‘BookShapes’ columns, published between 1978 and 1982, Alec’s distinctive voice was quite apparent.

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