The stampless cover has a 1D POSTAGE PAID/ L/ JUN 14/ 1898/ LAUNCESTON postmark and it is addressed to a Mr. C.J. Hall, Burnie (Tasmania). The red print reads ‘CATALOGUE, FOURTH ANNUAL BOOK SALE’ along the top, ‘BOOK SALE’ at the left margin, and ‘From A.W. BIRCHALL & SONS, Launceston’ at the bottom of the cover. The reverse was not seen. This postmark was used for bulk mail (Figure 1).
On the orders of Governor King of New South Wales, a party of soldiers in 1804 was dispatched to form a settlement in the north of Van Diemen’s Land to thwart any attempt of the French to establish themselves there. At the centre of a fertile farming belt, Launceston became a bustling agricultural town by 1840, however it hit its peak in the 1870s when gold, silver and coal were discovered in the north.
Andrew William Birchall (born 1831, Manchester, England) on arrival in Hobart in 1853 gained employment as a reporter with the Colonial Times. He married Harriet Ward in 1856 whom he had known before sailing to Australia and in 1858 they moved to Launceston where Andrew managed and subsequently bought a book selling business. The Launceston Examiner July 16, 1880 states that at the corner of Arthur and High streets, a family residence of thirteen rooms was erected by Mr. Russell for A.W. Birchall and the property named Moss Side stayed in the Birchall family until 1921. A picture of the home is seen in Figure 2.
Whereas other booksellers opened in Australia earlier than Birchall, who remained active in the book selling and publishing business from 1867 until 1911, the book firm of Birchalls in Launceston, is the longest active book store in Tasmania, situated at 118-120 Brisbane Street, Launceston. In common with other bookshops of the period, Birchalls not only sold books and the whole range of stationery requirements, including art supplies, but also was a publisher in its own right. This was particularly important to local authors but also gave the booksellers an intellectual standing in the community. Birchalls became known for publishing pamphlets and books, often of a religious content such as sermons, photographic postcards of Tasmanian scenes (example: Launceston and Cataract Bridge’) and also publishing musical scores (examples: ‘Osborn Quadrilles’ and ‘Camp Song’, the latter also having the words written by Will Birchall), as shown in Figures 3-5.
In addition to his book business, A.W. Birchall was involved in community affairs which included his being firstly the honorary secretary of the Launceston Congregational Union involved in the setting up of a Chapel Building Society in March 1878; involvement in the Launceston Benevolent Society; and, President of the Mechanics Institute, Launceston, with his involement recorded in the Colonial Times. In February 1855, A.W. Birchall was one of the signees of an ‘Address to the Governor from The Tasmanian Temperance and Total Abstinence Association’ printed in the Colonial Times. A copy of the first paragraph of this address is shown in Figure 6.
Birchalls imported ball point pens from England (first in Australia), stocked Waterman and Swan fountain pens, and imported high class glass and chinaware from England, Holland and France. An Art department was in operation in the early 1900s.