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. 

Modelling or mitring tools, used by plasterer Gene Dundon (1924-2007), early to mid 20th century, timber

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

Music

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

Stories

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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

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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Design for frieze / by Ethel Atkinson

Creating Imagined Interiors

Join industry experts at the Caroline Simpson Library as they discuss different approaches to creating interiors for house museums and film and television productions

Photo of children in dress up clothes

Unlocking Past Lives

Join Matthew Stephens, research librarian at the Caroline Simpson Library, as he uses the library’s specialist collection to explore the contexts of a selection of historic family photographs

Vivienne Chaffer : Colour [interior design student workbook]

Phyllis Shillito and her colour curriculum 1945–1979

This event focused on the colour curriculum of pioneering Sydney-based colour designer and educator Phyllis Shillito (1895–1980) of the 1940s to the 1970s

Watercolour of a group of people landing ashore

The Extraordinary Story of Rose de Freycinet

Hear the story of Rose de Freycinet, the first woman to write an account of a global circumnavigation, with Suzanne Falkiner

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.

Watercolour of a group of people landing ashore
Featured display

Celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Caroline Simpson Library

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Caroline Simpson Library, which was created through an extraordinary cultural gift donated by the children of Caroline Simpson OAM (1930–2003).

Past displays

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Views of Sydney, Macquarie Street, 10 August 1936
Past exhibition

Celebrating the centenary of The Astor, 1923–2023

An exploration of the concept, design and construction of this iconic Sydney landmark

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

Home in the Hunter

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

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

In the news

Collections and Loans Officer Meg Driver loads the letter box for transportation
Latest News

The Astor letter box on loan

Our latest Caroline Simpson Library display celebrates the centenary of The Astor, Australia’s first company title apartment block

A wallpaper being prepared for digitisation, Museums Discovery Centre
Latest News

Wallpaper in the spotlight

Work has begun on documenting this valuable collection to ensure each design is preserved against the effects of time for future generations to enjoy