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
Group of Lidcombe TAFE Design students visiting the Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection Photograph: Nicole Davis
 

Visit

 

Address

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

Opening hours

Open Tuesday to Friday
10am to 4pm
Closed Mondays, weekends and public holidays

Holiday opening hours:
The library will CLOSE for the year at 4pm on Friday 21 December 2018
The library will REOPEN for the new year at 10am on Tuesday 8 January 2019.

Planning your visit

Access to the library is free, but we encourage visitors to book with library staff prior to making their visit.

Large format collection items like paintings, prints, textiles and wallpapers can be viewed by appointment only.
 

Latest at the CSL&RC

Wallpaper Neeves cottage

Collections

Wallpaper recreated for 'The Harp of the South'Friday 14 September 2018

For anyone attending the new Sydney Theatre Company (STC) play, The Harp in the South, adapted from Ruth Park’s well-known novels, you might spy wallpapers running up the back wall of the set.

Set of four photos from different angles of metal box with lens and chimney.

Library Display

New Library DisplaysFriday 14 September 2018

Two new displays in the Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection showcase the Rouse Hill magic lantern, and the work of textile designer Ronaele Jones

The Railway Station wallpaper

Collections

Wallpaper for trainspottersTuesday 26 June 2018

Although the railway did not officially arrive at the New South Wales town of Bathurst until 1876, at a nearby property, Blackdown, a virtual railway station had been created more than 20 years earlier... on the wallpaper.

Brianna Library Research

Research

Colonial CaledonianFriday 15 June 2018

A new short film, ‘Colonial Caledonian’, follows Dr Brianna Robertson-Kirkland, from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, on her exploration of early Scottish sheet music held in SLM’s collections.

Kitchen image from 1941 Ramsays catalogue

Research

Back in Time for DinnerTuesday 29 May 2018

What happens when you let a team of TV production designers loose in the CSL&RC historic interior collections? Watch ‘Back in Time for Dinner’ on ABC-TV to find out.

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. The items in the catalogue come primarily from the Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection with a selection of items from the house museums within the portfolio of Sydney Living 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

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.

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.


 

Collection strengths

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.


 

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.

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.