Tailor’s buttons

Buttons inscribed with the name of tailoring firms and department stores.  As Robyn Caddy (of Victorian Button collector’s fame) has noted,  they are often overlooked but really interesting.  Many are made of vegetable ivory (Tagua Nut) and some were  made in England. Others, as explain in the article,  came from Italy.

Published in the News (Adelaide) 17th August 1940.

Published in the News (Adelaide) 17th August 1940.

They each have a story to tell,  a story of the many tailoring families and tailoring department within larger stores that were an important part of our history.  These stores supported not only city and town folk,  but through mail-ordering services, farming and remote communities.

Anthony Hordern & Sons

Anthony Hordern & sons evolved from a store established by Anthony Hordern junior in 1842. With 52 acres of retail space, it was at one stage the largest retail store in the world.  The company set up factories across Sydney to manufacture a wide range of goods including clothing.  The company continued until 1969.

The Palace Emporium, opened in 1905 in Sydney.

The Palace Emporium, opened in 1905 in Sydney.

2nd December 1959 The Australian Woman's Mirror

2nd December 1959 The Australian Woman’s Mirror

Australian Knitting Mills Limited

The Argus 22 September 1937

The Argus 22 September 1937.  This says it all!









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“Golden Fleece”










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Burkby and Waggen, Sale

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Frederick James Burby and his son-in-law,  Vincent St.Clair Wagglen,  took over a tailoring business in Sale in 1923.

Gippsland Times, 12th March 1923.

Gippsland Times, 12th March 1923.

Less than 18 months later they dissolved the partnership,  with Mr Wagglen continuing alone.  There must be a sad tale underlying this,  as he only kept the business going for another two years before starting again in Sunshine.  This business in turn lasted for around 3 years.  In the following years he was separated from his wife then in 1941 he died at the age of 50 years.

Clayton and Croucher

Published in Record, 1926

Published in Record, 1926.

All I can find is that these gentlemen were tailors/clothing manufacturers operating from the corner of Docas and Clarendon Streets, South Melbourne, in about 1925-27.Screen shot 2017-02-19 at 4.00.02 PM

David Jones

David Jones

David Jones

Back of a NSW Military Forces uniform button.

Back of a NSW Military Forces uniform button.









David Jones (1838-1887) was a Welsh immigrant merchant who opened his first store in 1838.  It continues today as the oldest department store in the world that still operates under its original name.

Rundle Street Mall store, 1920

Rundle Street Mall store, 1920


Mr Elijah Thomas, tailor and outfitter of Grey Street, St Kilda.  According to this information http://www.historyaustralia.org.au/ifhaa/bios/elijah.htm   He came from England around 1900.  Three generations of his family operated E.Thomas Pty. Ltd. Mercers and Men’s Ware from then until 1980.


Farmer & Company

Sir William farmer (1814-1908) set up a draper shop in Sydney in 1840 which went to to become a significant retail company.  It was the first company to close at 1pm on Saturday for employees to have a half day holiday.  They acquired the first commercial radio broadcasting license in Australia in 1923 and broadcast as 2FC (Farmer & Co). Farmer’s lasted until 1960.

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Farmer's store

Foy & Gibson Pty Ltd

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This was the first department stores in Victoria.  Mark Foy, a draper from Ireland, established a drapers in 1870 in Smith Street, Collingwood. His son Francis formed a partnership with William Gibson in 1883, before selling out to Gibson.  They produced soft furnishings, manchester, clothing, hats, hardware, leather goods, furniture and food, all in Collinwood.  Up to 2000 people were employed there. They were pioneers in the use of steam and electrical power. Branches were opened around the country. The company was sold to Cox Brothers then progressively split up and sold to David Jones, Woolworths and Harris Scarfe.

"Designed in Melbourne for Foy and Gibson's" 7th October 1930 the Argus

“Designed in Melbourne for Foy and Gibson Pty. Ltd.” 7th October 1930 the Argus

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The factories and warehouses in Collingwood supplied the companies department stores.

Haigh Brothers, Melbourne

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Haigh Brothers were tailors and outfitters in Collins Street from 1853 through until at least 1926.

The Argus 18th June 1853.

The Argus 18th June 1853.

The Argus 27th November 1923.

The Argus 27th November 1923.

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circa 1883. Collins Street from Town Hall.

John Thomson & Company

Around 1866 the Thomson family, Scots who moved to Hamilton in 1852, opened an iron store in Gray Street.  This was replaced with a stone structure in 1875. The success of the store necessitated several expansions in the following decades. In 1936 the company was publically listed.  It was the first department store in western Victoria and supplied ” every requisite for household, farm or station.”

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Joseph Handle Cutler opened a tailoring shop in Sydney in 1884. It became the tailor to Sydney’s elite, and continues today as a 4th generation family firm of bespoke tailors.

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Julius Peter Jorgenson was the son of a Danish born tailor. He set up as a tailor in maryborough, Queensland.

published in Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser 24th August 1921.

Published in Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser 24th August 1921.

published in Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser, 10 July 1936.

Published in Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser, 10 July 1936.

Leviathan Limited

The Leviathan Limited was a tailoring/retail firm  from 1865 until 1972.  They built the Leviathan Building on the corner of Bourke and Elizabeth Streets in 1912-13, the ground floor of which has been separated into smaller stores since the late 1970’s. The firm had a link with another Victorian icon,  Fletcher Jones,  as Mr David Fletcher Jones was a director of leviathan Ltd in the 1950’s.

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Sporting Globe 24th September 1927

Lincoln Mills

Since around 1801, when convicts started making woollen blankets in Parramatta, mills have been a part of Australia’s industrial landscape.

Lincoln Mills were built in Coburg in 1909.

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Lincoln Mills, Coburg in 1922

The mills in 1922.

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London Stores Limited

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Frank Samuel  Meyers (1869 -1931) established this tailoring firm in Adelaide in 1896. He expanded to Melbourne,  Launceston,  Hobert,  Colac and Castlemaine and  publicly listed the company in 1911.  Franks’s son Valleck continued the business after his father’s death.  They made uniforms during WW2.

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The Bourke Street, Melbourne, London Store.

The Age 10th September 1926

The Age 10th September 1926

The Argus, 8th August 1946

The Argus, 8th August 1946

Louis Epstein & Company

Louis Aaron Valentine Epstein was born in England in 1879. His family emigrated to Melbourne in 1889.  Out of his ten children, three sons, Keith, Phillip and Garth,  joined his tailoring business which was located in Epstein House, 133 Flinders Street, Melbourne.  They maintained the firm until retiring, gaining a reputation as bespoke tailors as well as uniform and equestrian clothing manufacturers (they supplied Victorian police uniforms). The firm was the first importers and retailers of Levi Strauss jeans in Australia.

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Photo from 1985

Photo from 1985

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Brighton Southern Cross, 8th feb 1908

Published in Brighton Southern Cross, 8th February 1908


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Founded in 1898 and still trading,  Lowes is a chain of men’s, boys’ and school wear.  It existed as a single store until expanding in 1948.

published in the Catholic Weekly (Sydney), 15th March 1951

Published in the Catholic Weekly (Sydney), 15th March 1951.

Miller’s, Ballarat

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Miller’s the Clothiers was an early Ballarat institution. It must have predated 1863, as it issued trade tokens that were banned in Victoria in that year.

The Ballarat Star, 4th March 1924.

The Ballarat Star, 4th March 1924.


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Established by Sir James Anderson Murdoch (1867-1939) in 1893, it was claimed to be “the world’s largest store for men and boy’s ware” in 1928. James had previously worked for Hordern’s (see story above).  The store still existed after WW2, but I don’t know when it closed.

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Richard Charles Hagen (1855-1944) worked as a tailor for Farmer’s (see above) before starting his own business in 1880.

published 1 September 1937, The Sydney Morning Herald.

Published 1 September 1937, The Sydney Morning Herald.




















R. C. Norman, Melbourne

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Richard Charles Norman was born in Middlesex in 1874. He was a tailor in Melbourne from at least 1903 and  died in 1943.

Samuel Holden

Samuel Holden (1869-1935), then later his son Samuel Garth Holden (1894-1958),  were tailors with a shop in Brunswick Street,  North Fitzroy.  Samuel senior was listed in local directories as a tailor from 1888.  It seems he had some employment issues.

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The shop in Brunswick Street.

The shop in Brunswick Street.

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Sinclair’s Pty. Ltd. Melbourne

Arthur James Sinclair started a tailors and costumers around 1910. It must have been a bit posh;  it was known as ‘Sinclair’s of Collins Street’. It went into liquidation in 1938.

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Woulfe & Son, Brisbane

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Patrick Woulfe (1888-1948) set up his tailors establishment in Adelaide Street,  Brisbane,  in 1913.  He was a successful businessman;  by 1939 he employed 400 people with outlets in other Queensland cities.  The family continued with the business after his untimely death,  with it finally being wound up in 1972.

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This photo is so daggy!  I love Harry-high pants in the middle.  From the Telegraph, 3rd November 1953.     “Here are three well-dressed men,  unperturbed at the prospect of hot summer days,  yet fully prepared for the cooler evenings.  They are dressed by Woulfe and Son Pty. Ltd.


Unknown/Mystery buttons

Despite searching,  I cannot find any details of the tailors/companies below.

Left: A.S. Austen, Melbourne Right: Davies & Leon, Melbourne

Left: A.S. Austen, Melbourne
Right: Davies & Leon, Melbourne