Collection strengths

The Caroline Simpson Library holds many collections relating to the history of houses, interiors and gardens. Explore a selection of some of our favourites

Garden study, Harrington Park
Documenting NSW Homes

Recorded for the future: documenting NSW homes

The Caroline Simpson Library has photographically recorded homes since 1989

Cover of book, with title Home Plans. Illustration of man sitting at desk drawing plans.

Post-war Sydney home plans 1945 to 1959

For architects and prospective homeowners alike, the most seductive promise of the immediate postwar years was the prospect of a clean slate, an opportunity to build new, light-filled, houses appropriate to Australian conditions

Sydney's home furnishing stores

Sydney's home furnishing stores, 1890-1960

This online exhibition has been inspired by the trade literature from Sydney’s furniture and furnishing retailers, with all the illustrations sourced from the Caroline Simpson Collection

Chenille curtain sunburst design

Furnishing textiles in Australia: 1850-1920

The Caroline Simpson Library holds numerous examples of textile furnishings provenanced to NSW homes dating back to the 1850s

Watercolour of Ventnor, Avoca Street, Randwick / artist unknown

Pictures of historic houses, their interiors and gardens

The homes of the past have often been captured in photographs and pictures. Many of the library’s images of homes in NSW and further afield are available online in the pictures collection database

Designs for villas and other rural buildings : engraved on thirty-one plates, with plans and explanations together with a memoir of the author and an introductory essay, containing remarks on the defects of modern architecture, and an investigation of the style best adapted for the dwellings of modern times. / by Edmund Aikin, architect

Architectural pattern books

Packed with architectural plans, house elevations and patterns, these publications have shaped much of Australia’s architectural history. We hold one of the country’s largest public collections of this format

Frederick Braby & Co. Ltd, catalogue no. 14, August 1899 [trade catalogue] 
[Variant title:1899 Braby's - zinc, galvanised iron &c. 1899.]

Paint Colour and Paint Charts

Colouring the past can be both exciting and challenging. Historical sources are often illustrated in black and white or rely on verbal colour descriptions. The Caroline Simpson library holds 100s of paint charts and paint colour sources dating to the early 19th century

New papers 1892 : [volume 1] / Allan, Cockshut & Co. [sample book]

Historic wallpapers

MHNSW holds the largest collection of historic wallpapers in Australasia. Dating back to the 1840s, these papers appear in a variety of formats including wallpaper rolls, wallpaper sample books and remnants retrieved from buildings. Given the late production of wallpapers in Australia, many of these thousands of examples were produced in Great Britain and elsewhere overseas

Furniture pattern book / W.H. Rocke & Co. [trade catalogue]

Furniture design history

The rich collection of furniture pattern books, trade catalogues, home magazines and original 20th century furniture designs provide an opportunity to trace the development of design influences in Australia

Designs for furniture and decorations for complete house furnishings : Illustrated with fifty collotype reproductions of artistic interiors, in various styles, specially designed for this work upwards of 2,000 half-tone blocks of furniture photographed from stock, and many coloured illustrations of carpets, curtains, linens, china and glass, etc. / by Hampton & Sons.

Trade catalogues and trade ephemera

Illustrating products for sale from a manufacturer, wholesaler or retailer, these catalogues reveal a surprising wealth of choice available to Australians in the 19th and 20th centuries. Includes thousands of examples from Australia, Great Britain and around the world

Buildings at the back of the house, Beulah, 30 July 1978

Film, Television and Theatre Production Design Sources

Stills in time... With a wide range of house, interior and garden sources at The Caroline Simpson Library, the library is an invaluable tool for production designers when recreating period set designs

Yates' seed book of what & when to sow : getting down to business on the food front, a real war job! / Arthur Yates & Co. [trade catalogue]

Nursery catalogues

Leafing through these hundreds of catalogues reveals over a century of shifting tastes in the NSW garden. Plants fall in and out of favour, techniques for display evolve and new plants are propagated

Miss Gittins' songbook : bound collection of early nineteenth century vocal music / formerly belonging to Miss Elizabeth Gittins [music]

Domestic Sheet Music in 19th-Century NSW 

The Caroline Simpson Library holds over 1500 pieces of music bound into albums of which many were owned by families in NSW. These playlists of the past reveal the inner passions and musical ‘hits’ enjoyed by earlier communities

Colonial plants database

The Colonial plants database includes more than 11,000 listings of plants known to be available in the colony of NSW prior to the 1870s

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Woodgraining tools, rollers, stamps, combs

Caroline Simpson Collection

Home and garden design, history and life

Caroline Simpson Library, The Mint.
Reading Room

Caroline Simpson Library

A specialised resource centre on home and garden design, history and life