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.
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.
Anthony Hordern & Sons: Sydney
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.
A.S. Austen: Melbourne
Australian Knitting Mills Limited: Richmond
Buckley & Nun Limited: Melbourne
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.
Burkby and Waggen: Sale
Frederick James Burby and his son-in-law, Vincent St.Clair Wagglen, took over a tailoring business in Sale in 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
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.
David Jones: Sydney
Rundle Street Mall store, 1920.
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.
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.
Foy & Gibson Pty Ltd: Collingwood
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.
Gilbert A. Parker: Melbourne
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.
Gowing Brothers Limited: Sydney
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.
Guest & Glover: Melbourne
Guest and Glover were tailors from around 1930-1952, at first on the second floor, The Block, then later at 234 Collins Street.
Haigh Brothers: Melbourne
Haigh Brothers were tailors and outfitters in Collins Street from 1853 through until at least 1926.
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.
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.”
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.
J.P.Jorgenson: Marysborough (Queensland)
Julius Peter Jorgenson was the son of a Danish born tailor. He set up as a tailor in Maryborough, Queensland.
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.
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.
London Stores Limited: Melbourne
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.
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.
Lowes: Sydney and Newcastle
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.
L. Sullivan: Euroa
In 1919-1920 Laurence Sullivan advertised his tailoring shop in the former E.T. Stammers (also country tailors) store.
Lunn & Holmes Pty. Limited: Shepparton
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Mutual Store, Melbourne
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.
Newbury & Son: Melbourne
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.
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.
Richard Charles Hagen (1855-1944) worked as a tailor for Farmer’s (see above) before starting his own business in 1880.
R. C. Norman: Melbourne
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;
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.
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.
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
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
George Waldrop started his tailoring and mercers business around 1885. It was taken over by Roger David Pty. Ltd. in 1977.
W. Gribbles & Co; Ballarat.
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
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.
W. H. Bladwell: Goulburn
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.
Woulfe & Son: Brisbane
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.