The illustrated cover shows the front of Bebarfalds partially covered by an irregular block of three red 1d N.S.W. ‘Shield’ STAMPS postmarked with the duplex ‘924' PARK STREET/ 4/ AU 22/ 99/ N.S.W, as well the blue 2d QV and a ½d QV stamps, similarly canceled. The registered cover is addressed to Messrs G.P. Rowell & Co., 10 Spruce St., New York (Figure 1).
The only information I could find about George P. Rowell & Co. was in the following advertisement that appeared in Harper’s Weekly September 7, 1872, when this major American advertising company was at a previous New York address of No. 41 Park Row, N.Y. (Figure 2).
Bebarfalds was a retailer of home furnishings and manufacturer of furniture, trading for many years from their landmark location opposite the Sydney Town Hall on the corner of George and Park Street. The early date of the company is variously given in their catalogues as either 1852 or 1864. The founder of the company, Barnet Bebarfald (ca. 1831-1894), arrived in Melbourne from England in 1852, and by 1857 was in partnership trading as Harris & Bebarfald. Bebarfald set up his own business by 1860 as an 'importer' but in 1863 he left Melbourne for Dunedin in New Zealand. In the 1870s, the Bebarfald family moved to Sydney and in the 1873 Sands Sydney directory, he is listed as operating a 'furniture warehouse' at 256 Pitt Street. An early 4th edition catalogue of the firm is the Furnishing Guide seen in Figure 3.
Around 1894, Bebarfalds moved to their long-term home opposite Sydney Town Hall. The company soon acquired the adjoining premises and around 1907 constructed a new four-storey building across the site. A catalogue from this period, illustrates the wide range of home furnishings sold by Bebarfalds: the departments included furniture, bedsteads, bedding, linoleum, carpets, drapery, manchester, crockery, glassware, ironmongery, go carts, perambulators, pianos, mangles, etc. By 1920 Bebarfalds manufactured their own furniture at the Redfern factory.
Bebarfalds became best remembered for their Bebarfald-BlueBird sewing machines, introduced in 1927. Elegant timber cabinets made at Bebarfald’s furniture factory hid British-made Vickers sewing machines, with the look of a substantial piece of furniture that would sit in harmony with other home furnishings. Bebarfalds offered customers free dress making courses and established an advisory bureau. The 1929 catalogue, More Frocks for Less Money, gave an overview of the services offered to sewing machine customers. A sewing machine factory was established in the Sydney suburb of Leichhardt and a new showroom set up in Collins Street Melbourne.
Bebarfalds also established a home planning bureau and in 1927 published a substantial volume, Safe Home Planning, This book, included contributions from a number of experts including architect Augustus Aley and landscape designer Max Shelley, and covered subjects ranging from purchasing land for a home to installing electricity, planning a garden and every aspect of furnishing the home. The bureau also offered an interior decorator service for the customers.
In 1929, the company constructed a new eight-storey building designed by architects Kent & Massie on the site of their old premises. Two storeys were added in the 1950s and the facade was altered. About this time Bebarfalds considered expanding their business beyond home furnishings to include drapery, millinery and fancy goods but decided against this, and sold off their unused drapery showcases in 1934. Instead, in 1931 the company invited Woolworths to open a branch across a section of the ground floor space.
Expansion of the business included the opening of new branches: in 1940, Bebarfalds stores were located at Newcastle, Parkes, Wollongong and Lismore, as well as a BlueBird sewing machine showroom in Brisbane. After World War II suburban branches were opened and by 1965 these included Parramatta, Cabramatta, Caringbah, Fairfield, Janalli, Maroubra, Stanmore, Sutherland and West Ryde. In the same year, Woolworths obtained the long-term lease of Bebarfalds city store and in 1968 the company was taken over by Ajax Insurance Limited. Bebarfalds’ suburban stores continued to trade under their own name until around 1973 when they became part of Macy’s Emporium (Sydney) Pty Ltd.