Royal Reels: Gambling


Two postal items associated with Messrs S. Hoffnung, Sydney were found in the same week. The first was a cover addressed to an individual care of Mess S Hoffnung & Co, Sydney NSW, Australia, sent from New York via San Francisco and the pink pair of the 6 cent Lincoln stamp (Scott #186, issued 1879) was postmarked with a NEW YORK/ JUL 22/ PM/ 1881 postmark (Figures 1 &2).

The reverse on the flap had an insignia of BARCLAY & COMPANY./ IMPORTERS/ NEW YORK and there was a transit SAN FRANCISCO CAL./ JUL 30/ REGD cancel as well as an arrival SYDNEY/ A/ AU 30/ 1881/ N.S.W postmark (Figure 3).

The second item was a Post Card of Australia with a printed red 1d KGV head stamp with a roller cancellation of SYDNEY/ 2/ AU 28-5-30P/ N.S.W, 1916 and it was addressed to Ballarat, Victoria (Figure 4).

The reverse of the card was dated Sydney, AUG 28 1916 and had a message “kindly furnish by return of post (certain), with Invoices and Order Numbers as under: (mss) June 29th £7/9/6

and oblige, S. HOFFNUNG & CO., LTD (Figure 5).

Sigmond Hoffnung was born in Kalisz, Poland in 1830, the elder son of Rev. Samuel Hoffnung and his wife Caroline. The family migrated to England in 1836 and Samuel became the minister and cantor of the small Jewish community of Newcastle upon Tyne in 1840. Sigmond was educated in Liverpool, but lack of money forced him to leave home to become a junior salesman. He became friends with a customer Henry Nathan who lent him £500 to buy goods and to take them to Sydney, Australia. Early in 1852 he set up a wholesale business in Wynyard Square, Sydney, was able to repay the loan and then acted as buyer for Nathan. By 1855 he was able to move to larger premises in George Street, and he made a trip to England in 1857 to replenish his stock and enter a formal partnership with Nathan. In Sydney in May 1858 he married Elizabeth Marks of Raymond Terrace, N.S.W.

Sigmond became prominent in Sydney’s Jewish activities: auditor and member of the York Street Synagogue; raised money for distressed Jews in Palestine; financially involved in Hebrew education; and, a benefactor of the Great Synagogue’s building fund, as well as other charities. In 1870, S. Hoffnung & Co. moved into new premises in Pitt Street, a heritage building designed by Thomas Rowe. The company’s Trade Circular in June 1876 showed the extensive building at 159-161 Pitt St and mentioned their Queen Street, Brisbane, Queensland store which had opened in 1871. The circular described the company as British Continental and American Warehousemen, as well as Wholesale Jewellers, and General Merchants & Importers (Figure 6).

The firm established other branches in Australia, New Zealand and Fiji, and it had its head office in London. The firm expanded into making saddlery and harnesses; wholesale American can foods and jams; watches, glasses and china; ironmongery, rocking horses, firearms, iron safes, and patent medicines; as well as setting up the first opal cutting business in Australia and the export of uncut diamonds and sapphires for industrial use.

In 1877 Sigmond returned to London and took charge of the London office, was joined by his brother Abraham and died in London at the age of 74 on 27 August 1904, survived by his wife and their son Sidney, who was a director of the firm until his death in 1930.

Part of this paper was adapted from the on-line edition of the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

Addendum (July 2010):  I have found a digitised book entitled ‘The House of Hoffnung 1852-1952.  100 Years of Wholesale Trading in Australia.’  This book provides 35 pages about the company, their business at various sites over the years, details of the founders, and the directors over the 100 years.   A drawing of Sigmond Hoffnung, taken from the book is presented as Figure 7.

At the same time I found this legible, but battered front and reverse of a cover addressed to the company, sent from France which was taxed 2s/4d with the addition of a pair of 1 shilling and a single 4 pence Australian postage dues.  It was posted at the Hotel Negresco in Nice on 4 May 1935, and although it was sent airmail it was delayed and was received in Sydney on 24 May 1935 (Figures 9 & 10).

Addendum (September 2010):  Another almost identical cover to the cover in Figures 1-3 sent from Barclay & Comany/ Importers/New York to a representative at S. Hoffnung & Co. in 1879 is shown in Figures 11 and 12.