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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Pilpel, Joshua (1891–1978)

by G. C. Bolton

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

Joshua Pilpel (1891-1978), master printer, was born on 25 November 1891 at Safed, Palestine (Zefat, Israel), son of Russian-born parents Menacham Isaac Philphil, merchant, and his wife Chaya Brocha, née Gershon. Emigrating to Western Australia, Josh reached Fremantle in the Yarra in December 1911 and was employed almost immediately by Detmold Ltd (later Spicers & Detmold Ltd), wholesale stationers. By the time he was naturalized in 1922 he had Anglicized the spelling of his surname. He worked as a bookbinder with Detmold's before becoming a commission agent. At the Synagogue, Perth, on 26 December 1928 he married 24-year-old Rose Prowolski (known as Provost).

In 1927 Pilpel had opened his own printery in the rented loft of a hardware warehouse, off Murray Street, in Perth's central business district. Pilpel & Co. began on borrowed capital and small reserves, but, contrary to predictions, survived and flourished during the Depression. Contracts were secured from government departments and from a large section of the medical profession. A major client for many years was the University of Western Australia, for whom the firm printed everything from letterhead stationery to programmes for graduation ceremonies and the student newspaper, Pelican. Pilpel's also printed the junior certificate and Leaving certificate examination papers for more than twenty years, all the printing requirements of the State School Teachers' Union of Western Australia, and a number of periodicals, including Magistrate for the Justices' Association of Western Australia and Fortitude for the Civilian Maimed and Limbless Association.

Genial, rotund, and bald from early middle age, Pilpel presided over a family firm respected for its integrity. He enjoyed good relations with unions, staff and the trade. The two senior staff members, an intensely religious compositor and a rumbustious Irish-Australian linotype operator (who combined branch secretaryship of the Returned Sailors', Soldiers' and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia with emphatic socialist principles) agreed on little except loyalty to the firm.

Pilpel's recreation was bowls, until several years of declining eyesight—due to glaucoma—culminated in blindness in 1948. He later continued to astonish staff and visitors with his dexterity in the finer points of operating a paper-cutting guillotine. A diligent collector for Jewish charities for the destitute, he published his own monthly newspaper, Westralian Judean (1929-55), and from 1972 printed the Maccabean (at cost) for the Western Australian Jewish Board of Deputies.

In 1954 the firm moved to premises in Stirling Street, custom-built by the architects Summerhayes & Associates and equipped with the latest technology. The doyen of Western Australia's printing trade, Pilpel died on 21 June 1978 at Royal Perth Hospital and was buried in Karrakatta cemetery; his wife, and their son and daughter survived him. In 2000 the family business, Pilpel Printing Co., flourished in Beaufort Street, specializing in colour printing, cheque encoding, bookwork and foiling. Next door an associate company, Print Finishing Line, provided folding, laminating and 'perfect' binding for Perth's major printing establishments.

Select Bibliography

  • Western Teacher, 14 July 1978
  • Sunday Times (Perth), 25 Dec 1977
  • naturalisation file, A1/15, item 1922/6879, PP302/1, item WA1483 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

G. C. Bolton, 'Pilpel, Joshua (1891–1978)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 29 October 2020.

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

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Philphil, Joshua

25 November 1891
Zefat, Israel


21 June 1978
Perth, Western Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence