Royal Reels: Gambling


This advertising cover for Stuart Alexander Co., Sydney has several interesting features including ample evidence that it was registered (red N.S.W. EXCHANGE registration label, red handstamp ‘REGISTRATION’ and the crossed red crayon lines. It was sent ‘per S.S. Orvieto’ to Paris, France. Postage and registration of 6d was paid by 4 single copies of the 1½d red KGV stamps and was postmarked rather exuberantly with 5 examples of EXCHANGE (placed well off centre)/ 10 FE 26/ N.S.W. The reverse, not shown, was back-stamped Paris on 26.3.26 (Figure 1).

The post office for the Stock Exchange, N.S.W. is of interest in that it opened in Sydney’s central business district in 1882 with a numeral cancellation of 1134 and then had 15 different cancels as ‘THE EXCHANGE’ from 1905 until 1917, including the numeral 1134 as the duplex obliterator. The postmark was changed to ‘EXCHANGE’ in April 1917. The Type 2A postmark (as seen on this cover showing the void space produced by removal of ‘THE’) was followed by a similar ‘void’ postmark, but with the time added at the left of the date – so-called Type 2A(T) – is known to have been in use from 1920-29, to be replaced by 2 additional types, from 1931 until 1938 in which the void no longer existed.

In July 1938, the name was changed to ‘ROYAL EXCHANGE’ which was found on 6 different types of cancel up to 1975, and the office with Royal Exchange is still open in 2006. I no longer collect postmarks after the George V reign, so I don’t have examples of the post office as Royal Exchange. A selection of the post office postmarks are shown, those in the top row from left to right being the numeral cancellation on the 2d blue N.S.W. stamp, the duplex postmark on the red 1d N.S.W. ‘Shield’ stamp, and ‘THE EXCHANGE’ on the KGV 1d red, dated 5P-7 MR 17, Type 2A(T). In the bottom row, two examples of the roller cancels on the KGV 1d red showed ‘THE EXCHANGE’ in December 1917 and ‘EXCHANGE’ in June 1918 (Figure 2).

The company on the cover has had a long history, for it has marketed and distributed “some of the world’s favourite household names for more than 120 years”. Its founder, Fernand Levic was born in Alsace, France in 1861. In his twenties he sailed abroad in search of opportunities to create his own business. On his way to Ceylon he was persuaded by the ship’s captain that the Australian Colonies offered greater opportunities and so he disembarked at Sydney. In 1884 Fernand began to import cigars from Switzerland, Cuba and the Philippines. His first principal representative was Charles Stuart Alexander and they both set about developing the Australian and Pacific markets. Their outstanding success meant that at one point the company manufactured its own Guinea Gold cigarettes at a factory in Redfern, a suburb of Sydney.

By 1900, the market for cigars in this country was considerable. The decision was made to begin production of the company’s own cigars which were called ‘Fluor Mercurio’ Over the next few years the company expanded its range and by 1908 it was importing tobacco products from various companies in England, Cuba, Egypt, Turkey and America and it relocated to offices on the fifth floor at 92b Pitt Street.

The area serviced by the company covered the whole Pacific region, and the company’s range of interests included other consumer items, among them, perfumery products from the prestigious Pinaud company in Paris. The company also expanded into pharmaceutical and food products.

The company’s founder, Fernand Levic, retired in 1920 after spending 36 years at the helm of the business he loved. He rewarded his most faithful employee, Charles Stuart Alexander, by selling him a 50 per cent share in the business for a mere 100 pounds, and Fernand’s 19 year old son, Gerald, also entered the business as a 50 per cent shareholder.

The company was renamed Stuart Alexander and Company and it entered a period of expansion in the trading of tobacco products. Gerald traveled throughout Australia and New Zealand as well as Europe and America acquiring agencies for the company. This was a period of great success for the company. It was a success driven by two dedicated individuals in Charles Stuart Alexander and Gerald Levic. In 1930, with the country in the grip of the Great Depression, Gerald purchased the remaining 50 per cent shareholding from his father’s former partner and Charles Stuart Alexander retired.

The company was 52 years old when Gerald Levic, son of company’s founder, passed on its management to George York, for Gerald was leaving for Europe and expected to be absent for an extended period. George was just 21 years old. and he had originally been employed as a messenger in the early 1930’s. In 1946 Gerald Levic returned from England with his wife and their daughter Fiona. Although he had minimal connection to the company during his 10 years in Europe, Gerald displayed the business acumen he’d shown in his earlier days.

In the aftermath of World War Two, the Australian market was bereft of stock and the demand for cigarettes was enormous. Gerald began again to import cigarettes and cigars from all over the world, regenerating the company’s core business. Stuart Alexander & Co acquired the agency for Henri Wintermans cigars in 1949 and this relationship is still strong to-day. For the next 20 years the company steadily built on the already strong foundations of the past, expanding and increasing its business.

In 1971 the company, now under the control of Wesley Browne as Managing Director, moved to Rosebery in Sydney. This helped consolidate the business under one roof in readiness to develop new categories other than tobacco and cigars. Four years later, Stuart Alexander & Co launched Moccona coffee in Australia (1975). Over the next two decades the company continued to grow and add products to its portfolio including Guylian chocolates (1987) and Van Melle Brands (Mentos in 1992).

The three years from 1995 to 1998 were the beginning of a great change within the company. During this period, Wesley Browne who had started with Stuart Alexander & Company more than half a century before and who had been the driving force of the company, retired. Wesley Browne had dedicated his working life to developing the Stuart Alexander business into a well-recognised and respected company, both in Australia and internationally. Wesley Browne, passed the torch to his son, Garry Browne in 1995 who started to focus on food and premium brands as the company’s direction.

I acknowledge that the description of the Stuart Alexander company has been taken from their even more detailed website. It is always wonderful that an Australian company of this duration is proud enough to document their history.