It is with great sadness that we farewell Margaret Bourke, after a 3-year fight against stage IV melanoma. Margaret was an extraordinary donor who, with her husband Tim, has given State Library Victoria the most extensive collection of books on the game of bridge in any public institution of the world.

Des Cowley, Principal Librarian, History of the Book and Arts, shares the story of the unique and treasured Margaret and Tim Bourke Bridge collection.

Portrait of Margaret Bourke taken in Kobe, Japan, in 1998 when her team finished second in the Pacific Asian Bridge Federation Women’s Team Championship event.

Staff at the Library were saddened to learn this week of the passing of Margaret Bourke, wife of Tim Bourke, and joint donor to the Library of the Tim and Margaret Bourke collection of books and journals on the card game of bridge.

Margaret’s contribution to the game of bridge in this country was significant and over her lifetime she represented Australia on 31 occasions, more than any other player. This included 15 World Championships and 15 Asia Pacific Championships, including 3 wins. She also had 74 wins in other national tournaments. 

I first met Tim and Margaret Bourke when I visited them in Canberra in 2007 to view their collection of books on bridge. Nothing could have prepared me for the scale of the collection, the result of years of assiduous and informed collecting. Room after room of organised shelves lined their premises. At the time I admit to being a total novice, never having imagined that so much could be written about a card game.

Alongside the game of chess, bridge is considered one of the most complex games ever devised, and it comes with a vast body of literature equivalent to chess. Since the early 1960s, the Library has housed the world famous MV Anderson chess collection, and, in the light of this, the Library decided to accept Tim and Margaret’s generous offer of donation of their collection.

The Tim and Margaret Bourke Bridge collection is one of the largest collections of its kind in the world, running to nearly 10,000 items. The first donation arrived at the Library in 2008, around 1500 books relating to the history of the card game contract bridge, and its predecessors bridge, whist and auction bridge. The focus of this initial donation lay in the development of the game during the early period from 1894 to 1939. It was followed by several further donations, covering more recent developments of the game. To date, more than 4500 books can be found in the Library’s catalogue, with many more to follow. A selection of recent books and journals can be browsed in the The Ian Potter Queen’s Hall, adjacent to the Library’s open access chess collection.

The modern form of the game, known as contract bridge, was developed in 1925 by American millionaire Harold Vanderbilt while on a Caribbean cruise. Vanderbilt’s rules led to a golden age of the game, particularly in the United States, during the 1930s and 1940s. Many of the publications produced during this era feature striking art deco designs on their dust jackets.

One of the most popular early figures in the game was Ely Culbertson, a rather dashing and debonair showman who published a number of bestselling books on the game and founded the magazine The Bridge World in 1929. Culbertson’s books are well represented in the collection, along with works by other key writers such as Vanderbilt, Charles Goren, and Milton C Work.

Tim and Margaret Bourke shared a long-term interest in the game. Aside from Margaret’s career as a significant competitive player, Tim has written extensively about bridge since the early 1970s, around the same time they first began collecting. In 2010, he published a comprehensive bibliography of published sources on the history of the game, based on his collection: An annotated bibliography of bridge books in English 1886–2010.

Margaret and Tim enjoyed a long and happy marriage, which included a mutual love for the game of bridge. It is a given that libraries have long been indebted to collectors, whose extraordinary knowledge and passion inspires them to assemble comprehensive collections in a chosen field. In this case, Victorians are the beneficiaries of the generosity of Margaret and Tim Bourke in making their collection publicly available. Margaret’s legacy will be lasting as generations of bridge players build their knowledge and expertise through this collection in years to come.

Des Cowley, Principal Librarian, History of the Book and Arts

This article has 2 comments

  1. My lockdown reading includes E. F. Benson’s Mapp & Lucia novels. Set during bridge’s heyday, it seems the perfect game for waging war on your neighbours while sitting at a table. I’ll check out the display when the library reopens.

  2. Martin L Saunders

    I was fortunate to work with Tim at Regal Life Insurance where he was an Actuary. A lovely man, very friendly and extremely knowledgeable. I was saddened to hear that Tim had lost his wife and would like to pass on my deepest sympathies to Tim and family.

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