Sydney's home furnishing stores, 1890-1960
Until the 1960s, Sydneysiders usually 'went to town' to shop for furniture and furnishings for the home.
There were dozens of specialist furnishing stores and department stores with furnishing sections in the city centre. Many were concentrated in 'furniture precincts', first along George Street and then from the 1920s around the city circle railway stations and the southern part of Pitt Street.
The decline of home furnishing shopping in central Sydney from the late 1950s was influenced by rising rents, lack of parking and a general population move to the suburbs. Shopping patterns also changed with the development of drive-in suburban shopping centres, the first opening at Top Ryde in November 1957.
Very few city stores sell furniture today and only two department stores reman in central Sydney: David Jones and Myer (on the old ‘Farmers’ site). Some of the original buildings still remain but with new uses while others have been demolished.
One other important legacy of the city stores is their trade literature such as catalogues, flyers, postcards and associated publicity ephemera. Hundreds and thousands of pieces of trade literature were produced by the larger retailers, but the nature of the material meant that it was usually discarded and so can be exceeding rare today. The Caroline Simpson Library (CSL) actively collects this trade literature and places each piece onto its online library catalogue; and it has now started to digitise a number of pieces.
This trade literature is typically rich in details of each store, the goods they sold and details of policies and practices of many stores including: listing of departments, services, credit facilities, how to order goods by mail and changes or additions to the physical presence of the stores. Illustrations of goods and differences in product terminology in previous decades can also be revealing. This online exhibition, Sydney’s Home Furnishing Stores, 1890-1960, has been inspired by the trade literature from Sydney’s furniture and furnishing retailers. All the illustrations come from the catalogues and ephemera that are part of the CSL. And the time frame, from 1890 to 1960, is in part influenced by the trade literature: few pieces survive pre-1890 and by the 1960s, the furniture and furnishing stores of central Sydney were in serious decline.
List of home furnishings stores
A Hall & Co was a retailer of home furnishings and manufacturer of furniture.
Anthony Hordern & Sons was arguably Australia's largest retailer from the late 19th through to the mid-20th century.
Beard Watson & Co was renowned in Sydney as a retailer and manufacturer of high-class furnishings for the home.
Bebarfalds was a retailer of home furnishings and manufacturer of furniture, trading for many years from its landmark location opposite the Sydney Town Hall on the corner of George and Park Streets.
The David Jones name has long been synonymous with retailing of fine merchandise
F Lassetter & Co started life as an ironmongery business, becoming one of Sydney's largest 'universal providers' by the end of the 19th century
From its location just outside Sydney’s main business district, Grace Bros grew to become one of the city’s largest department stores.
Although J A Booth & Co was a Sydney furniture and furnishing retailer for over 50 years, the company started life in a very different manner: as tea merchants.
From a modest start in the Sydney suburb of Newtown in 1883, Marcus Clark & Co rose to become one of the city's largest department stores
Most Sydneysiders associate Mark Foy’s with its impressive former home, now used as the District Court
McDowells was a successful department store located in George Street near the General Post Office.
Morley Johnson Ltd was a firm of furnishing retailers and furniture manufacturers
RH Gordon & Co was a retailer of home furnishings, credited with introducing to Australia an installment payment system known as cash orders.
Starting in 1910 James Simpson-Lee (1883-1963) and a group of businessmen established a home furnishing store called H L & S Simpson & Co.
WW Campbell & Co was a furniture manufacturer, wholesaler and retailer established by William Webb Campbell (1861-1928) in 1886.