Simpson Lee & Co

Starting in 1910 James Simpson-Lee (1883-1963) and a group of businessmen established a home furnishing store called H L & S Simpson & Co.

The company was located at the southern end of central Sydney at 410-412 Pitt Street, but in 1925 moved next door to larger premises at 414-418 Pitt Street. Finally around 1929, the name of the company was changed to Simpson Lee & Co.

Two catalogues issued by Simpson Lee & Co in the late 1920s and 30s show that the business sold almost everything for the home: furniture, beds and bedding, brassware, caneware, canvas goods, carpets and linoleum, lampshades, manchester, blinds, curtains, glassware, crockery, cutlery, kitchenware and wallpaper. In addition, the company accepted trade-ins of old furniture and provided furniture repair, upholstering and carpet cleaning services.

While the store supplied English, European and Australian goods, the company's emphasis on Chinese-made merchandise set them apart from other home furnishing stores at the time. In May 1930, Mr Harry Foy, Far Eastern Import and Export manager for Simpson Lee & Co, opened a Hong Kong office for the company in order to facilitate trade between Australia and East Asian countries.

The Simpson Lee company letterhead announced that the firm were 'Complete home furnishers' and 'Eastern merchants', with specialties such as Chinese handicraft, camphorwood chests, brassware and lacquerware. Other Chinese goods included cloisonné, ivories, laces, tea, ginger and needlework.

In addition to Simpson Lee & Co’s own catalogues, the CSL&RC hold around 30 trade catalogues issued by manufacturers and distributors of merchandise that was sold by Simpson Lee & Co. The catalogues date from between the mid 1920s and the early 1950s and were issued by Australian, European and Asian merchants. Examples include porcelain from Hackmack & Co (Peiping China), Chinese artware from I. Shainin & Co (Shanghai), Elbrook super carpets from Elbrook Inc (Tientsin China), brassware from Myttons Ltd (Melbourne), door and cabinet hinges from Kirchhoff & Co (Germany) and teakwood chests from China Art Embroidery Company (Hong Kong).

In 1936, Simpson Lee & Co launched a home furnishing plan in which customers could pay for their goods via small weekly installments. The success of the plan, according to advertisements in the Sydney Morning Herald in late 1938 and early 1939, led to a proposal to extend Simpson Lee & Co's city premises: doubling the size of the building to six storeys with a pagoda-like structure on top of the building. However, the extension was never realised, possibly due to the onset of World War II.

Simpson Lee & Co was taken over in 1954 by Consolidated Finance Corporation Ltd and was thereafter operated as Consolidated Home Furnishers.

Related materials:

To see all the Simpson Lee material held by the Caroline Simpson Collection, go to the SIMPSON LEE catalogues etc.

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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.