Trade catalogues, Caroline Simpson Library Collection

The Caroline Simpson Library holds one of the largest collections of retail and manufacturer trade catalogues in Australia.

With almost 3,000 publications produced over a period of 200 years, the catalogues illustrate the rich story of Australian design, manufacture, and commerce, influenced by places such as Britain, Europe, North America and Asia. Many of these catalogues are held by no other institutions and digital copies are requested from around the world.

To meet this need for access for those unable to view the physical objects, Museums of History NSW (MHNSW) has digitised almost 200 trade catalogues and made them available on the North American database Internet Archive. Free to anyone, this small number of publications has been viewed over 44,000 times since the first catalogue was uploaded in late 2017. The international strength of this collection has been recognised by the Library of Congress in its guide to trade literature, and the MHNSW digital collection is currently the only non–North American institution represented in the Building Technology Heritage Library hosted by the Association for Preservation Technology.

From 2021 to April 2023, MHNSW invested $84,000 into digitising its trade catalogues. The 2021–22 financial year saw the digitisation of 118 trade catalogues and the capture of over 25,000 frames. This effort continues through the 2022–23 financial year, with a further 89 items and 13,000 frames in scope.

To date the focus has been on pre-1875 trade catalogues and collection highlights. The next phase of this project is to digitise trade catalogues published between 1875 and 1900. This comprises approximately 92 catalogues and over 50 post-1900 significant Australian catalogues featuring illustrated furniture and department store titles.

To digitise this material MHNSW engages a specialist digitisation company, who uses overhead photography to image each volume page by page, including delicate fold-out pages and volume covers. As the project nears completion, the photographer uploads the digitised images to our image management system. Upon receipt of the digitised images our team undertakes a quality review/acceptance process and updates descriptive metadata ready for publication.

Digitisation preserves the collection into the future, increases accessibility beyond geographical limits and provides opportunity for audience engagement. Following completion of the current work, a grand total of 260 catalogues and almost 50,000 frames will be discoverable to our online audiences.

The work involves

  • Minor collection care activities
  • Provision of external digitisation services
  • Quality assurance of incoming digital assets
  • Descriptive enhancement of catalogue records
  • Addition of image metadata
  • Publishing of catalogue records and photographs to world-renowned library catalogue sites for discovery, for example, Trove, Internet Archive, WorldCat, and the Building Technology Heritage Library
Original glass plate negatives from the NSW Police Forensic Photography Archive arranged on a lightbox.

2023 Annual Appeal: Preserving our Past

Funds raised will assist us to continue our work to digitise the significant collections in our care.

Woodgraining tools, rollers, stamps, combs

Caroline Simpson Collection

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