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Preece, Frederick William (1857–1928)

by Geoffrey Dutton

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

This is a shared entry with John Lloyd Preece

Frederick William Preece (1857-1928), by unknown photographer, c1900

Frederick William Preece (1857-1928), by unknown photographer, c1900

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 31281

Frederick William Preece (1857-1928), and John Lloyd Preece (1895-1969), booksellers and publishers, were father and son. Frederick was born on 17 September 1857 at Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, England, son of William Preece, gardener, and his wife Eliza, née Coombes. He grew up at Dorking, Surrey, and was apprenticed to the printing and bookselling trades. The family migrated to Melbourne in 1880; Frederick worked for M. L. Hutchinson, bookseller and publisher. Next year he moved to Adelaide where, on 27 December 1883, he married Mary Susan Clarke; they had four sons. Preece worked for George Robertson & Co. until 1887 when he became manager of E. S. Wigg & Son's book department. He opened his own business as a bookseller, stationer, librarian and importer of English and American periodicals at 36 (later 34) King William Street in 1907, financed by a £500 loan from Robert Barr Smith.

Frederick's rimless spectacles and goatee gave him a mild and learned look; he was a kindly, informative adviser to readers, practising bookselling as a profession rather than a trade. His son John said that 'there was to him something sacred about it … “34” was a social meeting place as well as a bookshop'. It was an essential part of Adelaide's cultural life.

From 1920—their first publication was W. S. Kelly's Beef, Mutton and Wool—the firm gave a lead in the city's 'mild renaissance in printing', publishing with The Hassell Press some thirty titles by local writers including Mrs K. Langloh Parker and H. Basedow, books on the State's history by (Sir) Grenfell Price, Rex Ingamells' Conditional Culture and his Jindyworobak anthology (1938).

Frederick's sons Edgar and John joined the firm and their brother Ewart was briefly its accountant. Gilbert Ponder succeeded him and also advised on their stocks of foreign books. Frederick's taste was broad, embracing romance novels as well as classics, but he deplored the psychoanalytical novel.

The shop incorporated a gallery. From 1919 to 1938 it held thirty-three exhibitions including, in 1922, the first Adelaide exhibition of the Australasian Painter-Etchers' Society. In the storm that followed the banning of three of Norman Lindsay's etchings during the 1924 Adelaide Artists' Week (organized and managed by F. W. and J. L. Preece), their gallery hung the forbidden works.

Frederick belonged to Adelaide's United Arts Club and in 1927 became president of the Associated Booksellers of Australia and New Zealand. A deacon in the Congregational Church at Glenelg, he adopted Methodism after moving to Blackwood about 1916. Survived by his wife and three sons, he died there on 15 December 1928 and was buried in Mitcham cemetery.

John was born on 23 September 1895 at Glenelg. He attended Prince Alfred College in 1910 and studied English at the University of Adelaide in 1914. In 1926 he visited Italy with Lionel Lindsay. Three years later he launched Desiderata, an elegant and stylishly illustrated literary magazine which appeared for ten years and brought together notable Australian and overseas contributors. At a time of general philistinism Desiderata contained enthusiastic notices of modern art and literature: in 1939 there were two favourable reviews of Patrick White's first novel, Happy Valley.

In 1934-40 John Preece ran a branch of F. W. Preece & Sons Ltd in Victoria Arcade, Sydney. As 'Lloyd Rhys' he wrote three books, about New Guinea and about small ships in World War II, reflecting his travels and his temporary civilian work for the Defence Department at Garden Island. In 1946 he returned to Adelaide.

In 1955 John, who suffered from Parkinson's disease, visited Italy, possibly seeking a cure. A Catholic, he was appointed a knight of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. He retired from the firm in 1957 and with his young friend Mario Guerrino Callegari moved permanently to Italy in 1959. Their book, Gates of Veneto (London, 1968) comprised an introduction on wrought-iron work by Preece and photographs by Callegari. They lived in Rome, then Padua where Preece died on 20 May 1969 leaving Mario all his possessions.

F. W. Preece Pty Ltd was owned by John's former partner W. B. Pitcher and operated from Gilbert Place, Adelaide, until 1971.

Select Bibliography

  • Artists' Week 1924, exhibition catalogue (Adel, 1924)
  • W. H. Langham, The Hassell Press 1885-1935 (Adel, 1935)
  • G. Dutton, Snow on the Saltbush (Melb, 1984)
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 17 Dec 1928, 7 July 1951, 14 Sept 1957, 30 May 1969
  • private information.

Citation details

Geoffrey Dutton, 'Preece, Frederick William (1857–1928)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/preece-frederick-william-8101/text14141, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 27 June 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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