Australian Home Furnishers (ACO)

In 1948, Australian Home Furnishers was the retail arm of the home furnishing and credit business called Australian Cash Orders.

Australian Cash Orders Ltd had been established around 1920 specialising primarily in a credit payment scheme known as ‘cash orders’. By 1923, the company was also a retailer of home furnishings, trading from premises in Pitt Street.

The cash order system was introduced to Australia by furnishing retailer R H Gordon & Co and was similar to the English scheme known as ‘check trading’ first used in the 1880s. Gordon’s scheme was adapted and expanded by a number of companies by the 1920s, including Australian Cash Orders Ltd.

By the 1930s, Australian Cash Orders had a portfolio of 750 Sydney companies from which customers could purchase goods or services: furnishers, drapers, milliners, tailors, opticians, jewellers, retailers of cameras, electrical goods, stoves, baths and even dentists participated in the scheme. A customer could order goods from any of the participating stores, Australian Cash Orders Ltd would pay the company for those goods and the customer would then pay Australian Cash Orders the amount owing in installments plus an agreed interest fee. Retailers liked the scheme as they were paid for goods in full quickly without the cost of administering their own credit facility. The scheme was also popular with wage earners as it enabled them to purchase home furnishings and other goods.

The Australian Home Furnishers catalogue (TC 749.20494 ACO) from around 1948 outlines the company’s payment plan. Customers were given two years to pay for goods above the value of 25 pounds, no interest was payable for the first three months and half the interest was refundable if full payment was completed within 10 months. Furnishings advertised in the catalogue including furniture, carpets, bedding, kitchenware, cots and radios - for each was listed the full price, expected deposit and per week repayment.

Home furnishings like furniture, carpets and bedding were often too expensive for customers on low wages to buy for cash. Credit or installment payment schemes were used by furnishing retailers in the 19th century, but by the 1920s the growing suburbanisation of Australian cities like Sydney meant that such schemes were essential to pay for new houses and furnishings. The cash order scheme exploited this opportunity with an easy-to-use system that benefited customers and retailers alike. The cover of the Australian Home Furnishers catalogue from around 1948, which featured a young couple glowing with anticipation as they strode the path to their new home, revealed the intentions of the company.

Australian Cash Orders Ltd was taken over by Milton Investments Ltd in 1968 at which time the Australian Home Furnishers retail outlet probably closed.

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Michael Lech

Michael Lech


Michael Lech is a curator at MHNSW. He has worked on exhibitions, presented talks and written extensively on various aspects of the history of the home in Australia. Michael’s work has covered areas such as interior design, the history of wallpapers and furnishing textiles, the heritage movement, Sydney’s department stores and design history in Australia.