Tailor’s buttons (including from department stores)

Buttons inscribed with the name of tailoring firms and department stores,  as Robyn Caddy  (of Victorian Button Collector’s fame) has noted,  are often overlooked but really interesting.  Many are made of vegetable ivory (Tagua Nut).  As reported in the book  ‘The Importance of British Material Culture to Historical Archaeologies of the Nineteenth Century’ edited by Alasdair Brooks “Birmingham button makers stamped buttons for local tailors,  outfitters,  and department stores.”  Other examples,  as explained in the article below,  came from Italy.  Tailors also used metal buttons.

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 departments within larger stores) that were an important part of our history.  These stores supported not only city and town folk,  but through their mail-ordering services,  farming and remote communities.

A. Bentley:  Melbourne






Thanks to carol for these great pictures.

Punch, 15th March 1906

Punch (Melbourne), 15th March 1906.

Alfred Bentley (1851-1935) was a tailor who ran a shop in Bay Street,  Brighton,  Victoria from 1886 until around 1900,  then from Little Collins Street until around 1919.  It appears he got in trouble with a bit of business on the side…..

The Ballarat Star, 17th September 1919

The Ballarat Star, 17th September 1919.

Anthony Hordern & Sons:  Sydney

metal button

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vegetable ivory

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.

A.S. Austen: Melbourne

Australian Knitting Mills Limited:  Richmond

The Argus 22 September 1937

The Argus 22 September 1937.  This says it all!









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“Golden Fleece”










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Buckley & Nun Limited:  Melbourne

Mars Buckley c1825-1905.

Mars Buckley c1825-1905. from http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/buckley-mars-3104

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In 1851 Mars Buckley, an Irishman,  came to the goldfields to sell goods.  He formed a partnership with Crumpton Nunn (1828-1895),  an Englishman,  the following year.  Nunn would return to London to run that office of the company.  The Bourke street store,  then  stores (with the opening of the men’s  store) became the fashionable places to shop.  Fashionable ladies would meet in the tea rooms.   In 1900 Mr Buckley would claim his store was ” the oldest established Drapery House in Victoria and the most fashionable Resort for Shopping in Australia.” The store was purchased by David Jones in 1982.

Built in 1911-12 then extended in 1920-22.

Edwardian-Baroque style: Built in 1911-12 and extended in 1920-22.


The neighbouring Men’s Store in Art Deco style built in 1933.

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 only lasted for around 3 years.  In the following years he was separated from his wife then in 1941 he died at the young age of 50 years.

Clayton and Croucher:  South Melbourne

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.

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David Jones:  Sydney

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.

David Jones

David Jones

Back of a NSW Military Forces uniform button.

Back of a NSW Military Forces uniform button.

Davies & Leon:  Melbourne

Dunlop Weatherproofs Australia Pty. Ltd.:  Wagga Wagga

I’m including Dunlop as this button is like a tailor’s button,  even though they were clothing manufacturers.

In 1944 the Dunlop rubber Co. Ltd took over a munitions factory in Wagga Wagga and registered a garment division of the company,  to make uniforms for the military.   After the war they continued as the largest single employer in the region, only closing in 1977.


Edward Hughes: Sydney

This establishment operated from Erkine Street,  Sydney,  from around 1902 to 1913.

E.J. & D. Curran: Bathurst

Edward J. Curran (originally Curren) was originally a cutter for  W.G. Ward in Bathurst.  He set up his own business, Curran and Taylor,  in 1892,  then E.J. & D. Curran (with his brother Daniel) in 1895,  which was very successful.

The building of E.J. and D. Curran, Bathurst.

National Advocate (Bathurst), 1st April 1932.

This remarkable man went back to school,  studying science and law,  and worked as a Barrister in Sydney. He then studied medicine, and went on to establish the Opthamologly Department at Kansas University, USA, becoming known as “the miracle man of Kansas”, and was a pioneer in the area of glaucoma.  He was also the Professor of Human Anatomy and Physiology at the Kansas University.  Not bad for a tailor!  He died in 1962.

E.THOMAS PTY. Limited:  St Kilda

Mr Elijah Thomas,  tailor and outfitter of Grey Street,  St Kilda.  According to the information found in 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:  Sydney

Sir William Farmer (1814-1908) set up a draper shop in Sydney in 1840  which went on 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

The Imperial price has been crossed out and 10cents written o the card; so this must date from around 1966.

 Carded buttons for Farmer’s, circa 1966.

Similar card without the Farmer’s branding. In Helen’s collection.










Foy & Gibson Pty Ltd:  Collingwood

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This was the first department stores in Victoria.  Mark Foy,  a draper from Ireland,  established a drapers store 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 Collingwood.  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 (Melbourne).

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

Gilbert A. Parker:  Melbourne

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Gilbert Alexander Parker was born in 1897 in Bunbury, West Australia.  His family moved to Melbourne after the death of his father.  He started work as a tailor’s cutter,  progressed to tailor and then manager.  In 1929 to 1931 he advertised for sewers and machinists to work at 152 Elizabeth Street, 4th Floor.

The Age, 15th November 1929.

The Age (Melbourne), 15th November 1929.

Gowing Brothers Limited: Sydney

John Ellis Gowing was born in 1835 in Suffolk.  He emmigrated to Sydney in 1857 and died in 1908.

John Ellis Gowing opened a drapery business in Sydney in 1863.  In 1868 he was joined by his brother Preston,  and Gowing Brothers was born.  It was a department store specialising in novelties,  camping gear and men’s wear,  and had trademarked lines of clothing.  Although an investment arm of the business survives today,  the last department store closed in 2006.

“Gowings perfect gentleman”.  The company boasted of pioneering affordable ready made suits made from Australian wool.

Guest & Glover: Melbourne

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Guest and Glover were tailors from around 1930-1952,  at first on the second floor,  The Block, then later at 234 Collins Street.

Advocate(Melbourne) 21st June 1934.

Advocate(Melbourne),  21st June 1934.

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 (Melbourne), 18th June 1853.

The Argus 27th November 1923.

The Argus (Melbourne),  27th November 1923.

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circa 1883.  Collins Street from Town Hall.

J. E. Buchan: Bendgio

John Edward Buchan was born in Melbourne,  but moved to Ballarat as a child.  He was a tailor situated at “Bath Corner”.  In 1885 he partnered with Mr Jackson to form the “Gold Mines Clothing Company”.  Several year later Jackson had to retire due to ill health and John continued alone.  Unfortunately John contracted pneumonia and died in December of 1897,  aged only forty-one years.

Bendigo Advertiser, 16th September 1885.

Bendigo Advertiser, 17th January 1888.

John Thomson & Company:  Hamilton

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 listed on the stock exchange.  It was the first department store in Western Victoria and supplied ” every requisite for household,  farm or station.”

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J.H.Cutler:  Sydney

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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J.P.Jorgenson: Marysborough (Queensland)

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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:  Melbourne

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: Coburg

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:  Melbourne

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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 (Melbourne), 10th September 1926.

The Argus, 8th August 1946

The Argus (Melbourne),  8th August 1946.

Louis Epstein & Company:  Melbourne

Louis Aaron Valentine Epstein was born in England in 1879.  His family emigrated to Melbourne in 1889.  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.

Lowes:  Sydney and Newcastle

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Founded in 1898 as W. Lowe and Company,  tailors and outfitters,  and still trading as a chain of men’s, boys’ and school wear stores.  In 1911 it was formed into Lowes.  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.

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L. Sullivan:  Euroa

In 1919-1920 Laurence Sullivan advertised his tailoring shop in the former E.T. Stammers  (also country tailors)  store.

Euroa Advertiser,  23rd January 1920.

Lunn & Holmes Pty. Limited: Shepparton

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In 1922 Arthur Lunn and Tom Holmes,  who had previously worked for  John Zimmerman’s tailoring concern  in Maryborough,  established their own business in Shepparton at 170 Wyndham Street.  They prospered and listed the company in 1929.  Tragically,   Mr Lunn died suddenly of a seizure whilst driving his car.  He was only 47 years at the time.  The company continued until 1958.

Advocate, 4th August 1938.

Advocate (Melbourne), 4th August 1938.

Mather Brothers:  Ballarat

James Walter Oliphant Mather,  a Scot by birth,  was a tailor in Armstrong Street,  Ballarat.  In 1918 ,  two years before he died,  he handed over his business to his sons,  Walter Percival, James Lewis and Francis Richard to run as Mather Brothers.  James died in 1931 and ‘Perce” retired in 1946.  I don’t know if the business continued after this.

Hopetoun Courier and Malle Pioneer, 23rd August 1918.  I Couldn’t find any advertising for the brothers.


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 from that year.

The Ballarat Star, 4th March 1924.

The Ballarat Star,  4th March 1924.

Murdoch’s:  Sydney

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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,  when was sold to Walton’s.

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Murdoch’s store (later Walton’s).  It was demolished in 1984.

The Mutual Store,  Melbourne

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The Mutual Store Limited was Melbourne’s first department store,  established in 1872.  A fire destroyed the original building in 1891,  but was successfully rebuilt.

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The second building.

The department store traded until 1965.  It was used for the Council of Adult Education for many years,  and then converted into apartments.

Newbury & Son:  Melbourne

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Charles Hyatt Newbury junior,  son of Charles Hyatt Newbury senior,  grocer,  and later his son,  Charles Robert Newbury,  were mercers and drapers in City Road,  Emerald Hill (now South Melbourne) from before 1890 until at least 1922.  The next Charles (Renton) Newbury let down the family by becoming an orthodontist.

1934 CR Newbury

The Record (Emerald Hill) October 1922.

The Record (Emerald Hill, Melbourne), October 1922.

O’Brien & Earle:  Melbourne

Frederick Davidson Earle (1888-1947) and Lorne Alfred O’Brien were tailors in the Manchester Unity Buildings around 1929 to 1956.

The Argus, 5th January 1934.

The Argus (Melbourne), 5th January 1934.

R.C.Hagen:  Sydney

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:  North Fitzroy

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. Limited:  Melbourne

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

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Snow’s : Melbourne

As early as 1892 John Snow and Co.  “the increasingly popular and premium drapery emporium of inland Victoria” were operating in Ballarat.

Hand coloured postcard of Ballarat circa 1910.  The John Snow Company building can be seen to the right of the Town Hall with it’s clock tower.

Table Talk (Melbourne), 10th January 1929.

The Argus (Melbourne),  24th August 1931.




















Around 1915 they opened in Flinders Street opposite the station.  In 1926 they purchased the business of Lincoln,  Stuart Pty Ltd.  The men’s wear department was sold to be run as a separate business, “Snow’s Men’s Wear Ltd.” in 1937 with the parent company continuing in Hawthorn.  They moved from their premises to next door in Flinders Street,  with Tatersalls moving in,  and later on Yooralla.  This Art Deco building,  although much renovated,  still stands today but it’s days may be numbered as developers wish to demolish and rebuild.

Solomons Pty Ltd; Geelong

Solomon button: rather worn and hard to read, sorry.

In 1944 Solomon’s department store printed a pictorial history of the Geelong area as a fund raiser.  It included its own story:

Waldrop Pty. Limited:  Melbourne

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George Waldrop started his tailoring and mercers business around 1885.  It was taken over by Roger David Pty. Ltd. in 1977.

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Eltham and Whittlesea Shires Advertiser 14th October 1921

W. Gribbles & Co; Ballarat.

1896 advertising from the Sovereign Hill and Gold Museum.

W. Gribbles and Co. , tailors,  were located at 27 Sturt Street, Ballarat.  They used material from the Ballarat Woollen Mills for their expertly cut suits.  They bought out an existing business in 1887 and were still trading in 1954.

W. G. Scates:  Swanston St. Melbourne

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William Gardiner Scates was born in Ballarat East in 1892.  He became a tailor with outlets in Swanston Street and also Footscray.  He died in 1973.

Werribee Shire Banner, 1st February 1934. What pray-tell, is a practical tailor?

Werribee Shire Banner, 1st February 1934.  What pray-tell,  is a practical tailor?

W. H. Bladwell: Goulburn

button dug up by Mick Thompson.


William Henry Bladwell,  from Bath,  Somerset,  opened a tailoring establishment in Goulburn in 1882 in conjunction with his father.  This firm ran until around 1950.

Goulburn Herald (NSW),  21st October 1882.

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 (Brisbane), 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.”