RH Gordon & Co

RH Gordon & Co was a retailer of home furnishings, credited with introducing to Australia an installment payment system known as cash orders.

Irish immigrant, Robert Henry Gordon (1863-1935) established the company in 1901 together with three partners: G E Wise, H A Scott and C G Scott. Gordon had previously obtained experience in the retail trade with Sydney retailers Hordern Bros, Rileys Ltd and David Jones before opening his first small shop in the Sydney suburb of Balmain.

The success of the business allowed Gordon to open a new, larger shop front in the city at 506-508 George Street in March 1903. And by 1907 a branch store opened in the inner-western suburb of Newtown. Gordon's city store moved down the road in August 1925 to occupy the Joseland & Vernon building at 569-181 George Street, the former home of drapers Ball & Welch. The move allowed Gordon to be part of a major precinct of furniture and furnishing retailers that had formed around the southern end of George and Pitt streets. Finally, when the next door business of competing furnishing retailer, A Hall & Co, moved to Pitt Street in 1934, Gordon bought the premises and extended his business along the road.

The success of RH Gordon & Co in the early years can be attributed in large part to the establishment of its cash order payment system. The Retail Traders Association Journal of NSW for May 1935 credited RH Gordon & Co with introducing cash orders to Australia. This scheme, which was similar to the system of ‘check trading’ first used in England in the 1880s, worked this way: once the customer chose the item(s) required, a bedroom suite for example, RH Gordon & Co would order and pay for the item from the manufacturer, probably getting a percentage of the total as commission. The customer would then pay RH Gordon & Co in installments for the amount of the purchase plus an agreed interest fee. RH Gordon & Co’s ‘Household Furnishings’ catalogue (TC 749.20493 GOR) from around 1938 outlined its ‘easy payment plan’ of set weekly payments on purchases from five to 150 pounds.

Credit schemes and installment plans for home furnishings had existed in Australia for many years before RH Gordon & Co introduced its cash orders. However, large retailers of home furnishings were often reluctant to offer credit in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Anthony Hordern & Sons catalogue for 1894 stated its terms were ‘spot cash’ only though money could be remitted by various methods like cheque or postal order. However, the success of Gordon’s scheme led to the introduction of cash orders by a number of other home furnishing retailers and influenced the evolution by the 1920s of larger and more sophisticated companies such as that of Australian Cash Orders Ltd. By the late 1920s, the success of credit schemes meant that most retailers had no choice but to introduce new payment policies – the Anthony Hordern & Sons catalogue for 1928 outlines a proto lay-by system known as the DPS (or Deposit Purchase System).

Following the death of Robert Henry Gordon, a family connection was maintained in the company through his son, Henry James (1891-1959), and son-in-law Kenneth Thomas Hardy, who remained as directors of RH Gordon & Co. In 1960, RH Gordon & Co was taken over by rival retailer Waltons Ltd and the stock and building were sold off in early 1961.

Related materials:

To see all the R H Gordon material held by the Caroline Simpson Collection, go to the library catalogue.

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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.