Two identical rose on buff Victoria 1885 1d ‘Naish’ Stamp Duty Post Cards issued on 1 January 1885 were posted to the same musical firm, Nicholson & Co. in September and October 1885 with requests for sheet music. Nicholson was a contemporary of music dealer, George Leavis Allan, but Nicholson is less known to-day. The first postcard is addressed to Mr. Von Geyer, Nicholson’s & Co., Melbourne and is postmarked with the 4th duplex GEELONG/ 1 (?)/ SE 17/ 85 with BN 2. As well the sender is identified as Knowles, Geelong and there is a reception postmark MELBOURNE/ (?) X/ SE 17/ 85 (Figure 1).
The reverse confirms that it was sent by E.C. Knowles, Geelong who writes “I forgot to order ‘Rip Van Winkle Lancers’ as a Duett (sic). It is wanted very particularly by to-morrow morning, so try your best to let me have it, if you have not the Duett or can’t get it, the solo will do.” (Figure 2).
The second postmark is cancelled with the larger figured non-duplex BN 587 of Cobden (rated ‘SS’) and the manuscript senders name is illegible, but ‘Cobden/ Oct’ is legible (Figure 3).
The reverse has a MELBOURNE/ 11 H/ OC 9/ 85 reception postmark and the manuscript identifies the sender as H.V. Royrl, Cobden State School, and it continues “Please supply me with the undermentioned music: ‘Pull, Pull together Boys”, “The Pope”, “Wait for the Turn of the Tide” and “Jacko Come Home” The above in tenor would suit best. I want it for school use and therefore cheaply as possible” (Figure 4).
James Charles Wilson Nicholson was born in Bradford England in 1837, son of John Nicholson, founder of Nicholson & Co., organ builders and pianoforte manufacturers, to which James apprenticed at age of 10. His mother was a music and piano teacher from London. The original company was first established in Rochdale UK, and still operates today building organs in company headquarters at Worcester.
In 1859 the 22 year old James married Diane Rushworth and in December that year they sailed for Australia and he became an employee of Mr. Wilkie, who owned a music instruments firm in Melbourne. Ten years later he was manager of W.H. Glen, another music firm in Melbourne. In 1873 he joined with another employee from Wilkies’, a man named Elmas Ascherberg, and they struck out on their own establishing a music house named Nicholson & Ascherberg in Collins Street. This partnership flourished until 1878 when Ascherberg decided to return to UK on account of ill health.
In 1878 Nicholson relocated to his new and opulent purpose built six storey building in Collins Street, creating the biggest and most well known Music House in the country, with all departments under the one roof: sales, repairs, teaching rooms, concert rooms, spare parts, booking office and more. By 1880, every major city in the country had a Nicholson & Co. Store, except Adelaide and Darwin. He travelled the world personally selecting his stock directly from the manufacturers. When the gold boom slumped, in 1894 he closed his Melbourne store and relocated his headquarters to flourishing Sydney. His wife had died in 1890, his only daughter had married and moved to UK, and his only son lived in Sydney and managed the Sydney store.
James remarried in 1898 to Alice Letitia Kerr and he died in September 1907 at a hospice in Randwick, Sydney and was buried in St. Kilda cemetery with his first wife and his sister Frances. The business continued under the stewardship of his son, Louis Edwin until 1939, when it was sold to Allan’s Music, continuing to trade under the Nicholson banner until it was sold again to Palings, when it no longer traded under its own name.
The music companies opened by George Leavis Allan (1826-97) and William Henry Paling (1925-95) are the subject of 2 separate papers listed under the category of Arts and Artist at this website.
The text of this paper relies heavily on an excellent paper Profiles in the Past: James Nicholson written by Helen McGrath, of Australia.
Addendum (October 2009): Helen Mc Grath emailed me and informed me of her further research on James Nicholson as well as other family members in Australia, U.K. and Canada. She has also researched a Ronisch concert grand piano commissioned in the late 1870’s or early 1880’s by Nicholson & Co. It was used as a recital instrument in Nicholson’s concert rooms and now has been housed in the Australian National University’s School of Music Keyboard Inastitute. The piano is shown as Figure 5.