On the 5th and 21st of June 2013, we visited the Caroline Simpson Library and Research Collection at the Mint Building in Macquarie Street in the centre of Sydney. The collection was established in 1984 and is owned and managed by the Sydney Living Museums (formerly known as the Historic Houses Trust). It is funded by a legacy from Caroline Simpson, a daughter of Sir Warwick Fairfax. As their librarian Matt explained to us, they are interested in how things were used in the home, not just in decoration or design.
The focus of the collection is on the history of houses, interiors and gardens in NSW since 1788 and it contains a wonderful selection of books, trade catalogues, design materials, photographs and textiles. We saw some of the materials from demolished buildings, e.g. a column top from ‘Subiaco’ in Rydalmere, and a light fitting from one of the GSDA houses built by Walter Burley Griffin in Castlecrag.
Among the textiles we saw upstairs was a beautiful lace bedspread acquired in France in the 1920s, sample books of laces, curtain trims and blinds, a pillow cover made from velvet ribbons in a log cabin design, and a 19th century lady’s needlework box made from ivory.
We all thought that the tile and wallpaper catalogues provided some great inspiration for our future quilts.
Among the treasures we were shown in the storage area was a set of silk curtains that decorated both of Patrick White’s Sydney houses. We also saw curtains from the ‘Australian Artists Original’ range of fabrics that John Kaldor commissioned from John Coburn in 1962.
In the drawer storage, we were shown some 1880s blinds that came from ‘Camelot’ in Camden, and a set of 1860s bed hangings from Thomas Mort’s ‘Green Oaks’ in Darling Point.
It was fascinating to see the upholstery from a Rouse Hill Farm chair that showed the progression of time and taste between 1870 and 1930 via seven layers of fabric covering the seat.
And the incomplete silk quilt top of simple four patches pieced over papers made at the end of the nineteenth century was just beautiful.
The collection is open for anyone to visit and use as a resource, but if you can not visit in person, they also have some online resources accessible on their website - http://www.hht.net.au/collections/library.