Mark Foy’s store catalogues 1914-1917

Mark Foy's Winter catalogue Winter 1914

Mark Foy’s Winter catalogue Winter 1914

Here in the Research Library, we are fortunate in having a collection of vintage store catalogues. They cover the period of the mid 1880s to the 1990s and are a wonderful source of information. Like online shopping sites of today, store catalogues existed to sell.
Most of the Library’s early store catalogues are printed in black and white, but the the covers of the Mark Foy’s catalogues, are elegant and colourful, illustrated by Irish artist Phil Blake . From 1885 to 1908 Mark Foy’s Limited was a noted Sydney department store, and we have five Foy catalogues for the years 1914 to 1917.

More vintage knitting

Smiths ideal book cover

To look at it, you would not think that this book of knitting patterns is 82 years old. The cover and pages are clean, the paper crisp. It feels new, even though the publication date is 1931. Compared with our other vintage knitting publications, Smiths’ ideal book of babies’ woollies is tiny: 7 inches x 4¾ inches, or 124 mm x 183 mm. The cover is elegantly elaborate, crowded with several font variations. It features an oval die cut window, showing a hand-tinted photograph of a baby’s knitted coat, made from one of the patterns inside.

Photos from Smiths ideal book

All of the 33 garments, which have been ‘designed and worked’ by the authors are photographed. In knitting publications of the 1920s and 30s, illustrations rather than photographs were still common. These photographs are clustered in the centre of the booklet, and each garment is numbered and named. From this we can identify the little coat on the cover as “Billie”. It is a boy’s coat, in blue (even though the photo shows it as green) edged with white teazel, wool that has been teased or fluffed up with a small, usually wooden comb.

Most of our vintage pattern leaflets in the library’s collection are dog-eared, and flabby, with loose pages or missing covers. Their knitting instructions are littered with pencilled notes and corrections such as ‘Shld be 89 st. 3rd row’ or ‘ ‘Use green fr blue’. Sometimes a slip of paper with carefully written alternative instruction details, is glued on the page. These patterns have been well-used.  Smiths’ ideal book of babies’ woollies, by contrast, looks as though it has never been opened.








Knit one, purl one

Of the many subject groups within the Research Library, the most distinctive is the collection of vintage knitting patterns. Housed in a glass fronted cabinet, they are grouped according to wearer and garment type and arranged as much as possible chronologically. Older leaflet patterns are often undated, so age has to be deduced from context, such as photographs and artwork showing hairstyles, makeup. Other clues are typeface and graphic layout of the text.

Little boys knitted suits

This booklet has no date, but we can pinpoint it as 1931, not from the cover but from an advertisement on page 16 for a knitting competition with a closing date of 10th January, 1932

Fair Isle jersey

The three little boys pictured on the cover are wearing suits knitted from patterns in the booklet. This pattern is for the Fair Isle jersey and shorts worn by the child on the left. Some of the pattern coding looks alarmingly complex, though it would have been familiar to knitters of the time.

Hair drying techniques


This picture may look like a scene from Dr Who, but in fact the woman perched on the table, is having her hair dried.  The date is 1928, and the photograph is from the Australian Woman’s Mirror [1]  for May 8 of that year.

The caption reads: Beauty parlors these days use electric blowers to dry milady’s hair after a shampoo. In this picture a little woman in a hurry is facing a young tornado, a battery of five blowers being brought to bear upon her.

On the same page (p 28), under the heading, The health of girls, are tips for ensuring beautiful hair. One such tip advises daily massaging of the scalp for two minutes, beginning at the ears and going over the whole head.  Another warns against the wearing of tight-fitting stuffy hats as these “will tend to cause baldness in women.”

Hairdrying 1933

By 1933, salon hair drying techniques have improved. This photograph from page 28 of the June 13th issue of the Australian Woman’s Mirror, shows the first woman to be awarded a professorship in hairdressing by the Société du Progrès de la Coiffure, of  France.  Naturellement.

Still, even though this machine looks non-threatening,  there are dangers for the hair.  In the book,  The art and craft of hairdressing [2] page 152 notes, “Drying the hair means more than merely removing the moisture in the shortest possible time without regard to the means used. The drying of hair by a mechanical blower, whether heated by gas or electricity, or both, seems to have been the acme of perfection.”

However, the writer goes on to say – and note the italics, “…the effects upon the hair and scalp are, to put it mildly, most harmful.”

Not to mention the effect of this method of hair drying on the operator.  Apparently after drying the hair of a client, “many operators become fatigued and listless, a condition due to the effects of a poisonous gas, carbon monoxide, which is one of the products of a gas-heated dryer.”

[1]  Australian Woman’s Mirror  Sydney: The Bulletin Newspaper, 1924 – Held at Powerhouse Museum Research Library:  v.1, no.1-v.36,no.31 ; Nov 1924 – June 1960 : incomplete

[2]The art and craft of hairdressing: a standard and complete guide to the technique of  modern hairdressing, manicure, massage and beauty culture. (Edited by) Gilbert A Foan. Pitman, London, 1931.   Held at Powerhouse Museum Research Library.



Clouds and surrounds


Among the gems in the Research Library’s collection are several books produced by Harry Phillips in the first half of the 20th century.

The above photograph shows the striking covers of two of Phillips’ books: Most up-to-date Sydney panoramic views published in Katoomba in 1914 and Sydney and Surroundings N.S.W. published in Katoomba in about 1911.

Photographer, printer and publisher, Phillips documented views of the Blue Mountains, Sydney and surrounds, Canberra and the royal visits.

Harry Phillips (1873-1944) was born in Ballarat, the youngest of 11 children. He published his first book, Commonwealth Views, in 1905, only a few years after completing his apprenticeship as a printing machinist. In 1908, whilst recovering from injuries to his hands, he travelled to Katoomba and began to experiment with photography. He found inspiration in the landscape of the mountains and moved with his wife and daughter from Sydney to Katoomba in 1908. He set up his business there and soon began to photograph, print and publish books of views of the local area. By 1919 100,000 copies of his best-selling Blue Mountains Wonderland 81 Views had been printed and Phillips became known for his photography of the Blue Mountains:

“One of the greatest advertisers of the Blue Mountains is Mr Henry, (sic) Phillips, the Mountain photographer. The books of views he publishes, printed and bound with his own plant, are circulated all over the world. They have even been found in German dug-outs in Flanders. The value of his work is undoubted….”

Smiths Weekly, March 21, 1919

Phillips was particularly fascinated with cloud formations and was known to dash out of his shop to spend the day photographing when the weather was suitably overcast. In 1914 he published a book called The Cloud, a series of photographs illustrating the Shelley poem by the same title. The final photograph in the book was called War Clouds, in which Phillips identified a portent of World War I. War Clouds was published widely and Phillips sent copies of the photograph along with his interpretation to the British parliament and the Russian Czar.

Bathers on Coogee Beach

Few of Phillips’ photographic negatives survive, making his books the most comprehensive record of his work. Phillips favoured the popular panoramic format in his photography and many of his books were sized accordingly. More than 80 books have been documented and the subject matter extends beyond the Blue Mountains to Sydney and surrounds, Canberra and the royal visits.

Sunset on the Parramatta River

The books were produced on high quality paper with ornate lettered covers, usually designed by Phil Blake & Co. Phillips took charge of all other aspects of the production: photography, processing, blocks, printing, assembly, promotion and sales. He simultaneously produced postcards, took portrait photographs, held exhibitions in Sydney and Melbourne and worked on schemes for tourism.

(With thanks to Kathy Hackett, Photo Library, Powerhouse Museum)

Postcard Story


Last week several interns from regional museums were resident in the Powerhouse. All came in to the Library at various times for a tour, where we do a walkabout through the collection and explain what resources are available. Dimity Holt conducted the tours during the week and on Friday she took around Margaret Clark from the Manning Valley Historical Society

Margaret Clark

Margaret had brought in a copy of her book to show us. Postcards from the Front was published in 2010 and came about when Margaret found a box of postcards in the archives of the Manning Valley Historical Society. The postcards were all sent by an Australian soldier serving in France during World War I to his family in New South Wales.

Margaret arranged the postcards in chronological order and the story was revealed. Alfred Haynes of the 36th Battalion, landed in France in June 1917, a week before the battle of Messines Ridge. He survived this, and went on to fight in the Battle of Passchendale in October. All the while he wrote his postcards telling of daily life in the trenches and of his encounters with the French families living in nearby villages.

Margaret A. Clark Postcards from the Front: still going strong. Manning Valley Historical Society, Wingham, NSW 2010.

More reconfiguring

It’s catching. Now a local bookshop near the Museum is doing it. Moving shelves, I mean, or to be more precise, moving the contents of shelves. On my way to work this morning, I called in there to pick up a recipe book for a friend. I scanned the cooking shelves for the title. After a moment, it struck me as odd that a book about code breaking should be in the slow-cooker section. Come to think of it, where were the slow-cooker books, and what was a Spanish dictionary doing there, likewise a biography of Churchill? After a moment I worked it out. Just like the Research Library, the shop had been reconfiguring their shelves. Sure enough, a large “Reference” placard on the wall, replaced the “Cooking” sign. This, I eventually found on the opposite side of the shop. In their new setting, the familiar cookery titles looked different. I found the book I wanted, but like our Library user of yesterday, I felt disoriented.

Moving shelves

“Are the surveying books back yet?”

I was startled to hear this as I hadn’t realised they’d been away. What the enquirer meant was, had the library’s shelving rearrangements finished, and if so, where were the books about determining land boundaries.

When you use a library for any length of time, you find yourself identifying subject areas by their geographical location. That section on contemporary jewellery is second shelf from the end on the right hand side of the third bay, those books on refrigeration are on the upper left hand side of the second bay, and so on. The call number you have, pinpoints the text you’re looking for.

This is fine as long as the shelving arrangements stay unchanged.

But good library collections are not static. Some subject areas may be relatively stable. Others are growing because of demand. Inevitably, these areas become overcrowded, prompting a readjustment of books and shelving as new titles are accommodated.

This is what has happened here in the Research Library. Over the past two weeks our shelving has been reconfigured to ease the log jam of books in popular subject sections such as interior decoration, architecture and design. It was a major operation, with almost the whole book collection being reshuffled. But what an improvement! We can find titles much more easily, the collection looks better and there is space for expansion on the shelves.

The change of location for subject areas though might take some getting used to. The enquirer who was asking about the surveying books called out the shelves. “I’ve found them, but they’re on the opposite bay. I feel disoriented!”

Brand power

This library has more than its fair share of interesting visitors investigating arcane topics. Even so, there are standouts. Earlier this week, Zoe Brand came to research works by contemporary Australian jewellers. (And who better than a practising Australian contemporary jeweller herself?) Zoe explained that she is writing short descriptive pieces about Australian jewellers and their work. She is hoping to cover as many artists as possible, from the 1980s to the present day.
Eventually, these pieces will be added to Art Jewelry Forum, a non-profit organisation created to promote contemporary jewellery world-wide. You can see for yourself here.
For the past four years, Zoe has been overseeing the running of Gaffa Gallery. Located in the Sydney CBD, it’s an independent artist-run space comprised of galleries, studios and a workshop. More

The American Library in Paris

On Monday this week, we had a Charles Sturt University student visit of one person. Amelia Carlin is completing her Master of Information Studies by distance while living overseas. Paris, to be exact. And if that’s not enough to make you jealous, Amelia works at the American Library in Paris

Amelia is employed as Collections and Reference Assistant, and is home in Sydney for a few weeks while the library is closed for renovations.

Originally set up in the 1920s for ex-pat Americans, the Library is open to the public. It is right in the heart of Paris. When Amelia steps outside the library door, the Eiffel Tower looms overhead. There are three librarians, plus a slew of volunteers and students. The collection consists of over 120,000 mainly English language publications: English and American literature, non-fiction, sociology and the arts. But it’s the extensive periodical collection, with its vintage fashion magazines that draws Parisian fashion designers looking for inspiration for their next collection. Issues of Vanity Fair, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar from the 1940s are the most popular – just as they are in our Library.