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Anthony Hordern and Sons
Biographical Display
Anthony Hordern & Sons was arguably Australia's largest retailer from the late nineteenth through to the mid-twentieth century. Few companies in Sydney or Australia could match the size of Hordern's business: the scale of their stores, variety of stock and services, diversity of manufacturing enterprises and number of employees.

The origin of the firm extends back to the drapery business of Mrs Anthony Hordern at King Street Sydney, established in 1823. The Horderns moved to Melbourne in 1839, but their sons, Anthony II (1819-1876) and Lebbeus returned five years later to set up their own drapery firm in George Street. The business moved to larger premises in the Haymarket in 1856 and by the time Anthony II's sons, Anthony III (1842-1886) and Samuel (1849-1909), joined the business in 1869 the firm was called Anthony Hordern & Sons. During the 1870s, the company purchased several surrounding buildings and reconstructed them into the substantial 1879 Palace Emporium with a staff of over 300. More sites were added in the 1880s, by which time Anthony Hordern & Sons called themselves 'Universal Providers', selling a huge range of goods, organised into distinct departments.

A major fire in 1901 gutted most of the Hordern buildings and forced a temporary move to the exhibition building at Prince Alfred Park. It also influenced Samuel Hordern to construct an entirely new building, the New Palace Emporium at Brickfield Hill, where all the stock could be housed under the one roof. When this five-storey building was opened in 1906 (a sixth storey was added in 1914-15), it stretched across half a city block and three street frontages: George, Pitt and Goulburn Streets. Many of the materials used in the building including iron castings, polished marble, woodwork and embossed steel ceilings were produced and/or finished at Hordern's own factories.

One of the first factories established by Anthony Hordern & Sons was a workshop to repair damaged furniture imports, set up in the late 1880s. By 1894, the workshop had been transformed into a fully functioning furniture making facility, as illustrated in an Anthony Hordern & Sons catalogue of that date (TC 658.871 HOR). A bedding factory had also been established by this time at Hordern's iron foundry, followed by an enamelling works, brass foundry, copper and tinsmith's shop, marble works, clothing factory, sporting goods workshop, bicycle works, bakery and printing office which produced a multitude of leaflets, advertising material and general catalogues.

Anthony Hordern & Sons famous red cloth-bound general catalogues were produced between about 1894 and 1923. These catalogues allowed Hordern's to tap into the lucrative country market and mail order trade. Large retailers like Horderns also encouraged people from the country to visit their stores, especially during the annual Royal Agricultural Society Show (Easter Show). By the 1920s, many stores claimed that the busiest day of their year was Easter Saturday. From the 1890s, Anthony Hordern & Sons also displayed a vast array of their wares at the Easter Show, eventually erecting a permanent pavilion. This practice continued until at least the 1950s: the 1935 catalogue published by Anthony Hordern & Sons specifically for the Easter Show illustrates everything from agricultural equipment to fashion goods and home furnishings.

Anthony Hordern & Sons prided themselves on selling almost any good imaginable, from the mundane to the magnificent. Their 1914 general catalogue, which extended to over 1500 pages, illustrated the opening of a fine art gallery in Hordern's Brickfield Hill store and featured marble statuary, French bronzes, finest hand cut crystal glass and ceramics by Royal Doulton, Wedgwood and Royal Copenhagen.

By the 1920s, the New Palace Emporium also offered customers other services such as tea rooms, a post and parcels office, rest rooms, public phone booths, a branch of the Commonwealth Bank and the 1928 Mail Order catalogue announced the opening of a Thos Cook & Son travel agency. The store was renovated in the 1920s and 30s to make space for the above new services and to accommodate extra facilities for a staff numbering approximately 3000, such as a library, surgery, dining room and class room.

Following the death of Samuel Hordern, Anthony Hordern & Sons became a public company in 1912 and was operated by Trustees of the Hordern Estate with Samuel Hordern II (1876-1956) as Governing Director. In 1926 the company was sold to a group of private investors and Samuel Hordern II left the business. After World War II, many department stores began to suffer as costs of maintaining large city stores rose, city retailers became more specialised and there was a spread of new suburban shopping centres. The 1963-64 Hordern catalogue lists three branch stores at Wollongong, Canberra and West Ryde, clearly an attempt to deal with the above changes. The company was eventually taken over in 1970 by rival retailer, Waltons Ltd, and the famous Brickfield Hill store was demolished in the early 1980s. (Michael Lech August 2007)
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