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Australian Jewish community and culture

Percy J Marks

Percy Joseph Marks (1867-1941) was a leading light in Sydney's Jewish community, and one of Australian Judaism's great historians. 

Born in Sydney, Percy was the son of London-born storekeeper Joseph Marks and Australian-born Elizabeth, daughter of Goulburn merchant Samuel Benjamin. Elizabeth died in childbirth in 1879, leaving Joseph to care for Percy and his siblings Ernest Samuel and Hilda Violet. The Marks family then moved from West Maitland to Sydney, where Joseph Marks became a woolbuyer. 

Percy and his brother were educated at Royston College, Darlinghurst. Always known as Percy J. Marks, to distinguish himself from celebrated Sydney jeweller Percy Marks, he later graduated with a law degree from the University of Sydney and rose to become a noted solicitor. Though running his own legal practice, Percy took an active role in the affairs of Sydney’s Jewish community. 

Series 02: Dr Fanny Reading photographs, ca. 1890-1965 / various photographers

Along with his brother, Percy was a founding member of the Sydney Hebrew Literary and Debating Society, and later its treasurer. He sat on many committees, including those of the Jewish Aid Society, the Sydney Jewish Education Board and the Sydney Zionist Society. Marks was a regular contributor to publications such as the Australian Hebrew Times and the Hebrew Standard. Studying the history of Australia’s Jewish community was one of his lifelong passions. In 1938 Marks was a founding member of the Australian Jewish Historical Society, and was its inaugural president until his death on 23 June 1941.

Interested not only in Jewish affairs, Percy J. Marks helped to found the Shakespeare Society of New South Wales. He was actively involved in the Australian Numismatic Society, the Ex-Libris Society and the Royal Australian Historical Society, among others, and wrote many articles on a wide range of topics for their publications.

The legacy of Percy J. Marks can be seen in the significant collection of Judaica that was left to the State Library of New South Wales by his brother, Ernest Samuel Marks. 

Percy J. Marks Collection of Judaica

The Percy J. Marks Collection of Judaica is one of Australia's most significant collections of books, pamphlets, scrapbooks and ephemera of Jewish interest. It consists of over 500 books, 850 pamphlets and ten manuscripts. While its strength lies in its Australian content, the collection also contains many rare printed items from Europe, Israel and the United States, some from as early as 1641.

Samuel Benjamin (1804-1854), merchant, Jewish community leader and maternal grandfather of Percy J. Marks, established the collection. Many items bear Benjamin's signature, along with the date 1836. Percy J. Marks added greatly to Samuel Benjamin's collection, purchasing sacred texts, commentaries, Hebrew and Yiddish language materials and pamphlets relating to the plight of Jewish people all over the world. In addition, the collection contains many Jewish periodicals. These include Jewish newspapers, as well as newsletters and annual reports of Jewish community organisations. E. S. Marks continued to add to the collection following his brother's death in 1941. On the death of E. S. Marks in 1948, the Percy J. Marks Collection of Judaica was bequeathed to the State Library of New South Wales.

As part of the State Library's eRecords Project, online catalogue records have been created for individual items in the Percy J. Marks Collection of Judaica. While access had previously been via a typescript contents list, researchers can now discover the extent of this impressive collection through a simple search of the Library's catalogue.

> Browse through the Percy J. Marks Collection of Judaica, via the Library's catalogue.


Australian Jewish community and culture is made possible through a partnership with the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce.