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Thorpe, Daniel Wrixon (1889–1976)

by Cecily Close

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Daniel Wrixon Thorpe (1889-1976), publisher, was born on 16 March 1889 at Macorna, Victoria, third of nine children of James Thorpe, farmer, and his wife Dorothy, née Angus, both Victorian born. (Sir) Fred Thorpe was his younger brother. Daniel was educated at Macorna until the family moved to Melbourne in 1899. He then attended North Fitzroy State School. Having gained his Merit certificate and worked part time in a newsagency, he left school in 1903 to serve an apprenticeship with George Robertson & Co. Ltd, stationers, and was also introduced to bookselling. He transferred to James Spicer & Sons Ltd, paper merchants, in 1909 and rose from counterhand to assistant general manager. At the Baptist Church, Kew, on 18 November 1911 he married Miriam Schenk (d.1959); they were to have a son and two daughters.

When World War I began, Thorpe was a member of the Fitzroy Rifle Club. He was called up for coastal-defence service, but was declared medically unfit. His duties at Spicer's grew more onerous as others enlisted and war conditions affected the availability, quality and cost of imports. In 1915 he became president of the Wholesale and Manufacturing Stationers' Association, formed to settle pricing disputes. Peace brought further anxiety with a slump in prices and fluctuating exchange rates.

Long aware of the lack of a trade periodical for stationers, booksellers and newsagents, and seeking independence from the competitive business world, Thorpe left Spicer's in 1921 to start the Australian Stationery and Fancy Goods Journal. It soon included bookselling news and in 1926 was retitled the Booksellers Stationers and Fancy Goods Journal of Australia and New Zealand. Lacking capital, Thorpe worked from one room with a typist and had some 'trying' years. He travelled Australia, seeking ideas, subscribers and advertising, and joined trade associations. His journal discussed foreign competition, salesmanship, market conditions and ideas for the Christmas trade, advised on new shop-fittings, and reported association news. In the 1930s Thorpe wrote successful booklets on the game of bridge, under the pen-name 'Ace High'.

From December 1928 Thorpe had published All About Books for Australian and New Zealand Readers, which carried reports from literary societies, as well as news of books and authors. He gave prominence to Australian publications, especially through the regular contributions of Nettie Palmer and later Fred Macartney. In 1931 children's book notes appeared, written by Thorpe's elder daughter Joyce, who began aged 12 what would soon be a significant connexion with the business. All About Books ceased publication in March 1938 for want of support. It was briefly revived in 1961.

Well known and knowledgeable, but no trade competitor, Thorpe was secretary (1925-49) of the Associated Booksellers of Australia and New Zealand (Australian Booksellers' Association). In 1928 the A.B.A. included him in its overseas mission to persuade British publishers to give Australian booksellers better terms. Due to increasing association work, he employed a second assistant and moved to a larger office in 1933. By the outbreak of World War II he was honorary secretary to five trade associations: he accepted an honorarium, only to preserve 'reasonable independence'. He also joined the Paper Trade Advisory Committee and was appointed honorary technical adviser to the Commonwealth controller of paper, whom he accompanied in 1944 to the United States of America and Britain to discuss supplies.

After the war Thorpe's trade journal for stationers, booksellers and newsagents prospered and grew (its cumbersome title had been simplified in 1937 to Ideas). He relinquished A.B.A. commitments and in 1948 formed his business into a family company, D. W. Thorpe Pty Ltd. In 1956 it introduced Australian Books in Print, and divided Ideas into two journals, one to serve newsagents and stationers, and the other, booksellers. The firm purchased its own premises, at 384 Spencer Street, in 1959. In semi-retirement Thorpe continued to write and contribute ideas, leaving the running of the company to a business manager. The arrangement proved unfortunate and the business declined. It was only restored and expanded when his daughter Joyce Nicholson was appointed managing director in 1968. At his behest she published a new journal, Educational Books and Equipment.

Interested in the firm to the end, Thorpe was a kindly and peaceable man, a Methodist lay preacher, and a keen golfer. He died on 29 June 1976 at Southport, Queensland, and was cremated. His daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • R. J. Thorpe, Daniel Thorpe's Family (Melb, 1996)
  • J. T. Nicholson and D. W. Thorpe, A Life of Books (Melb, 2000)
  • D. W. Thorpe Pty Ltd records (University of Melbourne Archives).

Citation details

Cecily Close, 'Thorpe, Daniel Wrixon (1889–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/thorpe-daniel-wrixon-11855/text21223, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 24 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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