Bits and pieces from a collecting life; member interview with Lloyd Holyoak, of Abra Card Abra Roycroft, Antiquarian Booksellers, 680 High St, East Kew.
Meet famous people? Undertake inspiring holidays? Own wonderful ephemera then sell it? Long-time ephemera collector, bookseller and ESA member Lloyd Holyoak has done all that, and was happy to reminisce here with Wendi Bradshaw.
From the beginning
Lloyd, now 88, has been proprietor of Abra Card Abra Roycroft in High Street, Kew, for over thirty years. In his early days even as a teenager Lloyd had a passion for books along with sports, and began collecting postcards, sports cards and other trading cards as were then available and fashionable. Although he still has a large, ongoing collection of postcards, unfortunately most of those early trading cards are long lost.
His book business began in earnest following a trip he took in the early 1980s, which he describes as a “world tour” vacation to the United States with his wife. A chance meeting with a book seller in Phoenix led to a discussion which encouraged him to seriously consider moving firmly into the ephemera and book trade. Once returned to Australia he closed down a former business to establish Abra Card Abra Roycroft.
Passion for history
Lloyd’s passion for books began early on through a love of history, especially Australian and American history. He explained that he holds a particular fascination for American artist/publisher Elbert Hubbard. Hubbard (no relation to the Scientologist) was a founder of the Arts and Crafts movement in America, setting up the Roycroft Community in East Aurora in New York State, in 1895. A quick review of this community online reveals that Hubbard, and his affiliates ran a fine bindery and printing press, often using handmade papers, as well as producing other goods in modelled leather and hammered copperware. Their well-known and respected artisan community had a lasting influence on local and national culture. Lloyd comments that the work they did with younger folk around the area was pivotal to the wellbeing of many social groups, children of disadvantage in particular.
It’s all in the name
The spelling of the Abra Card Abra part of the name gives emphasis to the ephemeral card within that magical incantation. Through another historical connection, the community set up by Hubbard was inspired by the Roycroft Press, which was established by Samuel and Thomas Roycroft, who were active in London, England from 1650 through 1690. Lloyd added Roycroft to Abra Card Abra as a final nod to the significant cultural contribution the brothers made.
Postcards – and more
He retains a passion for postcards. With an affinity for unusual ‘place’ postcards his private collection includes those from small, little-known Australian towns and railway stations. Some of these make their way into the shop for sale. Others for sale are categorised by country as well as activity and design – map and advertising cards being particularly popular. Older, antique postcards derived from very early photographs are also highly sought. Due to his expertise in the postcard arena, once a month or so the Cartophilic Magazine features a regular column themed around Lloyd’s unusual card finds, to showcase some of rarer and obscure interest.
Lloyd related to me a humorous experience he had with a television crew who were filming at a collectables event. The television presenter, impressed with his card collection, asked about the rarest, or most valuable card that could possibly be found. Somewhat tongue-in-cheek Lloyd commented that if ever a postcard image of the liner Titanic was to be found, showing it docked in New York Harbour, then THAT would surely be rare and valuable. Unfortunately, the intended humour was lost on the presenter (Titanic never docked in that harbour) – yet the comment still found its way to mainstream media!
While his trade is centred around books, the ephemera is about 50% of his trade. Older magazines and comics remain as collectable today as ever. Comics such as Ginger Meggs, and magazines like Rolling Stone can be found there – some issues are quite rare.
The rich and famous
Available ephemera includes anything that has been written or printed upon, from letters, cards, invoices and documents to packaging and tin products, packets, bottles, jars and boxes. Amongst the more valuable documents is a collection of nearly a dozen letters, correspondence written by Dame Nellie Melba to a builder, regarding the construction of a swimming pool at her residence in Coomb Cottage.
Lloyd has also had famous people visit his shop – he mentions meeting and selling books to comedian and TV personality Whoopi Goldberg, who is also an author and collector of children’s books, in particular those with indigenous themes. As well, he says, actor and comedian Barry Humphries frequently pops in to visit “if he is in town”. Apparently, Humphries is fond of unusual ephemera, particularly local advertising memorabilia.
On a final note, Lloyd was asked to sum up his life of ephemera collecting in a short thought or line, and he had a think for a few minutes. Then he said, “I’m 88 years old now, and I intend to keep on working here till I finally fall over. You know, if you rest, you rust.”
Perhaps it’s the magic in Abra Card Abra – as, looking around his shop, aside from the odd tin- there’s no rust on anything.