From lampshade designs to linoleum samples, seed catalogues to soap recipes, the Caroline Simpson Collection is a rich and eclectic source of information and inspiration on the history of Australian homes, gardens and domestic life from the late 1700s to the present.

Online catalogues 

Plate depicting Georgian furniture from periodical relating to decoration and ornament, architecture, furniture, fashion and social custom of early-19th cnetury.

Library catalogue

Search our full library catalogue for printed books, sample books, periodicals, pictures, manuscripts, personal papers and other documentary materials.

[Wingate album] : pencil drawings, watercolour sketches, photographs / Thomas Wingate [pictorial material]

Pictures catalogue

Search here for paintings, drawings and photographs.

1. Bossiaea kiamensis 2. Scaevola ramosissima: watercolour by Gertrude Lovegrove, c1891

Colonial plants

This database includes more than 11,000 listings of plants known to be available in the colony of NSW prior to the 1870s. 

Timber tools for decorative plaster work

Objects catalogue

Search here for collection objects such as wallpapers, floorcoverings, soft furnishings, textiles, furniture, light-fittings, window and door hardware, garden ornament, and architectural remnants held in the Caroline Simpson Library

Sheet music in the little drawing room, Vaucluse House


Browse or search this extensive selection of sheet music and music manuscripts from our collection.

Plate depicting door/window furniture from a trade catalogue of stained glass, casements, metal work.

Trade catalogues

Browse or search this selection of digitised trade catalogues for hardware, household goods, joinery, lighting, linoleum, stained glass, terracotta, tiles, ironwork, furniture and furnishings, wallpaper, ironwork and more. 

About us

Plate of Renaissance design from a handbook/manual relating to decoration and ornament Mid-19th century; Architectural fragment, timber capital; Watercolour, Lyons Terrace, Hyde Park, Sydney.

About the Caroline Simpson Collection 

Home and garden design, history and life

Objects from the Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection on display in the Scholars Gallery, Caroline Simpson Library

How to use the Caroline Simpson Collection

You will find items from the Caroline Simpson Collection in both our library catalogue and objects catalogue

Dr Matthew Stephens explains how to research objects at the Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection

Visit us

Caroline Simpson Library, The Mint

Collection strengths

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Garden study, Harrington Park
Documenting NSW Homes

Recorded for the future: documenting NSW homes

The Caroline Simpson Library has photographically recorded homes since 1989

Cover of book, with title Home Plans. Illustration of man sitting at desk drawing plans.

Post-war Sydney home plans 1945 to 1959

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

Sydney's home furnishing stores

Sydney's home furnishing stores, 1890-1960

This online exhibition has been inspired by the trade literature from Sydney’s furniture and furnishing retailers, with all the illustrations sourced from the Caroline Simpson Collection.

Notable collections and archives 

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Hugo Stossel collection : comprising photographs, photo albums, scrapbook and items of ephemera.

Hugo Stossel collection 

Trained as an architect in Rome and Vienna, Hugo Stossel arrived in Sydney as a refugee from Nazism in 1939. After the war, he designed several small modernist houses for fellow émigrés, as well as notable apartment blocks and commercial buildings.

Helen Jean Burgess : arts and crafts teacher

Helen Jean Burgess collection 

Arts and crafts teacher Helen Jean Burgess undertook a diploma in design and crafts at Sydney Technical College, East Sydney, from 1943 to 1947.  This collection of design, drawings, workbooks and photographs relates to her work during the five-year course.

Set of 16 architectural drawings

Morton Herman drawings and sketches

This collection of sketches and drawings by architect, historian and author Morton Herman dates from 1952 to 1978. It includes drawings and sketches of colonial buildings, churches and residences, and restoration work to historic bridges


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A chair with curved timber arms that bend to become legs with a white abolstered seat.

An extraordinary collection

The Caroline Simpson Collection has become Australia’s leading source of information on the history of houses, interiors, furnishings, gardens and domestic life

Detail of the four poster bed and beaded watch pockets in the Principal bedroom, Vaucluse House

Watch pockets

Watch pockets hung on the head cloth of a four-post bedstead and originally served in place of bedside tables, which were uncommon in the 19th century

Acquisition of the John and Phyllis Murphy wallpaper collection

Wall to wall: a marvellous wallpaper collection

A remarkable donation of over 3000 wallpaper samples by John and Phyllis Murphy adds to our existing collection to form Australia’s largest repository of historic wallpapers

'Kioto', a house on the Belltrees estate, Scone, 1893

Home in the Hunter

The Hunter Region is the traditional home of the Wonnarua people. The first European settlers arrived in the 1820s, mainly squatters who claimed large areas of land on which to graze sheep

Two women on the steps of a sandstone building. One is crouching and holding a wooden tool, an axe rests beside her. The other and one sits on the step at a easel, under an umbrella

Queering the Interior: London, New York, Sydney, 1882–1929

Design practices of five figures from queer history: Irish playwright and poet Oscar Wilde, American actress and interior designer Elsie de Wolfe, and Australian artists Eirene Mort, Roy de Maistre and Adrian Feint (1894–1971)

Finding aids

Party at Cairnsfoort, 11th January, 1949 / Alan Evans

Alan Spearman Evans collection 

Alan Spearman Evans was a Sydney-based amateur photographer who recorded his houses, gardens and workplaces, and those of his family and friends. This collection includes more than 2000 of his photographs taken between 1924 and 1957.  

Colour boxes and sample boards with swatches, Marion Best Pty Ltd, c1955-1965.

Marion Hall Best collection 

Marion Hall Best was one of Australia’s most influential 20th-century interior designers, and a founding member of the Society of Interior Designers of Australia. This collection includes papers, plans, photographs, wallpapers, fabrics and furnishings relating to her illustrious career.  

Marion Hall Best: Interiors installation view Hazelhurst Arts Centre and Regional Gallery, Gymea, NSW

SIDA collection 

The Society of Interior Designers of Australia was founded in 1951 to represent the interests of interior designers in Australia. The SIDA collection comprises committee minutes, membership lists and correspondence, newsletters, photographs and oral histories.

Candid street photograph of pedestrians taken in Martin Place, Sydney, by an unknown Ikon Studio photographer during 1950.

Ikon Studio archive  

Ikon Studio operated from the late 1940s to the late 1950s, selling prints from Her Majesty’s Arcade on Market Street, Sydney. This archive of nearly 5000 images of candid street photography taken in Martin Place in 1950 documents everyday life in compelling detail.

Talks & webinars

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A colour chart of ready-mixed paints

Historic colour in the home

The many sources in the Caroline Simpson Library that can bring colour to the homes of past, with Matthew Stephens

Children's nursery

Animals in our Houses

A Parade of Animals in Nurseries, with Michael Lech

Library displays

The Caroline Simpson Library 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.

On display

Turanville near Scone, property of Thomas Cook Esq.: a view of the grounds from the front of the house, Joseph Check, 1889
Featured display

Home in the Hunter

A look at the changing fortunes of pastoral estates of the Hunter Region

Past displays

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Eirene Mort (right) and Nora Weston, Gate Manor, Dent, Cumbria, photographer unknown, c1912. Photograph © Rob Little
Past exhibition

Queering the interior: London, New York, Sydney, 1882–1929

An exploration of the creative worlds and design practices of figures from queer history

Hand painted title showing the middle section of reclining figure in landscape.
Past exhibition

Lyon, Cottier & Co: 19th Century Decorators

For around fifty years, Lyon, Cottier & Co decorated the finest public buildings, private houses and churches