Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection

The Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection is open to anyone with an interest in the history of house and garden design and interior furnishing in NSW. It supports Sydney Living Museums’ work of interpreting and managing places of cultural significance in NSW and provides a specialist research resource for scholars, heritage and conservation practitioners, museum professionals, designers and tertiary students.

The strength of our collection lies in its wide range of formats, including architectural pattern books, architectural fragments, wall and floor coverings, manufacturers’ trade catalogues and sample books, garden ornament, fittings (including curtain and blind hardware, door and window furniture), soft furnishings and trimmings, personal papers and manuscripts, pictures, photographs, books, periodicals and oral histories.

The library provides access to all Sydney Living Museums publications such as guide books and exhibition catalogues and is the first port of call for those wishing to undertake research about the house museums and other sites managed by Sydney Living Museums.

The library was established in 1984 and renamed in 2004 in honour of Caroline Simpson OAM (1930-2003), after her outstanding collection of Australian colonial furniture, pictures and objets d’art was donated to the Historic Houses Trust of NSW and an endowment established in her memory.

Group of Lidcombe TAFE Design students visiting the Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection. Photo Nicole Davis © Sydney Living Museums

Visiting the Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection

In line with NSW Public Health Orders, all visitors must provide evidence of compliance with vaccination requirements (including contraindication certificates).

While inside our museums and historic houses, visitors over 12 years must wear a mask at all times. Please also ensure you maintain a safe distance from other visitors.

Please read our conditions of entry before visiting.

The library can accommodate up to 11 people while still maintaining safe physical distancing requirements.  Users will need to book in for one of the two 3-hour daily sessions offered, either 10am to 1pm or 1pm to 4pm. Please email us at library@slm.com.au or phone 8239 2233 to arrange your appointment.

We’ll be strictly complying with NSW Health guidelines to protect the health and safety of everyone who comes through our doors.  All visitors are required to abide by SLM's Conditions of Entry.

Address

The Mint, 10 Macquarie Street
Sydney NSW 2000
T 02 8239 2233
E library@slm.com.au

Opening Hours

Wednesday to Friday 10am-4pm

Closed Mondays, Tuesdays, weekends and public holidays.

Latest at the CSL&RC

Shand Kydd decorative scheme 1940

Talks

Colour in the Australian HomeThursday 14 October 2021

CSL&RC Curator Michael Lech shares resources from the Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection to uncover a ‘riot’ of colour used in Australian homes of the past.

Alan Evans poses in an armchair, c1927

Sydney Lockdown

CSL&RC Reopening 20 October 2021Monday 11 October 2021

The CSL&RC is reopening on Wednesday 20 October. Visitors must make a booking, please refer to our library page for access information.

Throsby Park library

Talks

Reading the House LibraryTuesday 28 September 2021

CSL&RC’s Dr Matthew Stephens shares stories and treasures from some of SLM’s most intriguing book collections.

Pacifica Frances Burke textile

Collections

Frances Burke TextilesMonday 30 August 2021

A wonderful new book has hit our desk in the last week - Frances Burke: designer of modern textiles. Authors Nanette Carter and Robyn Oswald-Jacobs have produced...

Exterior view of Burdekin House.

Talks

Burdekin House ColumnsWednesday 25 August 2021

CSL&RC Curator Michael Lech shares the extraordinary story of the overly mobile Burdekin House columns.

Catalogues & research tools

Library Catalogue

Place card / menu card for David Jones' 100th birthday ball, Sydney Town Hall, 28th May 1938, Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection.
Place card / menu card for David Jones' 100th birthday ball, Sydney Town Hall, 28th May 1938, Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection. Photo © Sydney Living Museums

Search the Library Catalogue for printed books, periodicals and other documentary material, including reports relating to Sydney Living Museums’ properties as well as pictures, manuscripts and personal papers.

Pictures catalogue

Allegorical figure of Commerce symbolising the colony of New South Wales, c1888. Watercolour painted by Augusto Lorenzini. Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection.
Allegorical figure of Commerce symbolising the colony of New South Wales, c1888. Watercolour painted by Augusto Lorenzini. Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection. Photograph: Paolo Busato

Search the Pictures Catalogue for paintings, drawings and photographs from the collections of all Sydney Living Museums’ properties, including the forensic photography archive at the Justice & Police Museum.

Collections catalogue

Sample from H.H. Groth & Co (Sydney) Wallpaper Sample Book no.56, 1930-1931.
Sample from H.H. Groth & Co (Sydney) Wallpaper Sample Book no.56, 1930-1931. Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection.

Four material formats can currently be searched through the Collections Catalogue: Floor coverings including carpets, felt, matting, oilcloth, linoleum, felt base and vinyl; Garden Ornament including fountains, urns, planters, sundials and edging tiles; Hardware, also known as builders hardware or ironmongery, including door knobs and knockers, locks, fingerplates and escutcheons; Wall coverings including wallpaper in various formats such as sample books, rolls and fragments. Items are primarily from the Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection with a selection from our house museums.

Colonial plants database

Plate 98: Cyclamens, drawn by Guglielmo Autoriello, in H.A. James Hand-book of Australian horticulture published: Turner & Henderson, Sydney, 1892.
Plate 98: Cyclamens, drawn by Guglielmo Autoriello, in H.A. James Hand-book of Australian horticulture published: Turner & Henderson, Sydney, 1892. Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection

The Colonial Plants Database includes more than 11,000 listings of plants known to be available in the colony of NSW prior to the 1870s. The database is compiled from several sources, including Botanic Gardens records, nursery catalogues and manuscript plant lists created by early colonists such as colonial secretary Alexander Macleay.

Digital trade catalogues

Mark Foy trade catalogue cover
Cover of furniture catalogue published by Mark Foy's Limited, Sydney. Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection, TC 749.20491 MAR.

A number of trade catalogues related to architectural ironwork, architectural papier-mâche, art metalwork, furniture and furnishings, hardware, household goods, joinery, lighting, linoleum, stained glass, terracotta, tiles and wallpaper have been digitised and can be accessed via our Digital Trade Catalogues page on Internet Archive.

Domestic sheet music and manuscripts

Love's Ritornella
Title page (detail) of 'Love's Ritornella', a piece of handwritten manuscript music from the Dowling songbook. Rouse Hill House & Farm Collection, Sydney Living Museums.

A selection of domestic sheet music and music manuscripts from the collections of Sydney Living Museums’ historic house museums and Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection have been digitised and are now available through our page on Internet Archive.


 

Finding aids

SIDA collection

SIDA logo
Society of Interior Designers of Australia (SIDA) logo, design by Douglas Annand, 1965; from the flyer: 'At your service', Sydney, nd. Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection, Sydney Living Museums. SIDA Foundation archive, SIDA /C/3.

The Society of Interior Designers of Australia (SIDA) was a professional body, founded in 1951, to represent the interests of interior designers in Australia. It promoted interior design to the general public and also set standards of practice for the profession.

Marion Hall Best Collection

Interior with colourful textitles.
Detail of showroom interior of Marion Best Pty Ltd in Queen Street, Woollahra Sydney, 1968. Photo © Mary White, Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection, Sydney Living Museums

Marion Hall Best was one of Australia's most important and influential 20th-century interior designers. She was an outstanding figure in the dissemination of the ideas of international modernism in relation to interiors in Australia. The Marion Hall Best collection includes papers, plans, photographs, wallpapers, fabrics and other furnishings related to her career.

Ikon Studio Archive

Unidentified pedestrians, Martin Place, Sydney, 1950, Ikon Studio
Unidentified pedestrians, Martin Place, Sydney, 1950, Ikon Studio. Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection, Sydney Living Museums.

The Ikon Studio archive of candid street photography is a documentation of everyday life on Martin Place, Sydney, in 1950. The photographer focused on passing pedestrians but also caught the backdrop of building facades, city traffic and architecture. The 5000 frames shot on negative film give immediate evidence of the photographers ‘street view’ experience and also reveal the subjects responses to being photographed. 

Alan Spearman Evans Collection

The gazing globe on the roof garden of Feltex House, Sydney, 5 April 1940.
The gazing globe on the roof garden of Feltex House, Sydney, 5 April 1940. Photo: Alan Evans. Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection COL_EC18_PRO_N_052

Alan Spearman Evans (1902-1963) was a Sydney-based amateur photographer who spent much of his life recording his houses, gardens and workplaces as well as those of his family and friends. Many of the houses photographed by Evans have survived and a number have been heritage listed. The collection includes over 2000 photographic images taken by Evans between 1924 and 1957.


 

Collection strengths

Recorded for the future: documenting NSW homes

Marara, Careel Bay, Pittwater
Marara, Careel Bay, Pittwater NSW. Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection, Photograph (c) Brenton McGeachie, Sydney Living Museums

How do we better understand the history of the homes we live in?

The Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection (CSL&RC) has answered this question by commissioning photographs of present-day houses and gardens in New South Wales. Since 1989, a wide range of homes have been recorded - from those designed by well-known architects to simple suburban cottages. Click on the link to see some of these homes.

Post-war Sydney Home Plans, 1945 - 1959

Book cover title on blue background.
Cover of booklet: Homes and plans by Norman Reed, c1945 (detail). Caroline Simpson Library and Research Collection, Sydney Living Museums

For architects and prospective homeowners alike, the most seductive promise of the immediate postwar years was the prospect of a clean slate, an opportunity to build new, light-filled, houses appropriate to Australian conditions.

19th Century Domestic Advice Manuals

illustration of two women talking
Frontispiece detail, 'The frugal housewife: dedicated to those who are not ashamed of economy' by Mrs. Child, 1860. Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection, Sydney Living Museums. RB 640 CHI.

The role of the domestic advice manual was to educate and provide guidance and information. Manuals were prescriptive in nature. They promoted popular notions of taste and culture and maintained those of class, gender, duty and morality. Publishers catered to the growing market of middle-class readers, preoccupied with ideas of ‘betterment’, releasing a myriad of books targeting a wide range of topics and audiences.  

Current displays

The Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection hosts a number of semi-permanent and temporary displays. The displays focus on and highlight aspects of the Library's collection, which broadly covers the history of house and garden design and interior furnishing in New South Wales.

Past displays


 

See more past displays from the Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection.