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Levy Bros, Fancy Goods Importers, Melbourne

By Museums Victoria    |   Wednesday, 19 January 2022

In 1852 the Levy brothers, Goodman, Nathaniel and Lewis, established a fancy goods warehouse and importing business in Lonsdale Street, Melbourne. Another brother, Alfred, was a travelling sales representative. When Queen's Arcade (the first arcade in Melbourne) was completed in 1853, they took one of the corner shops, soon adding another five or six shops as the business expanded. In his Life in Victoria William Kelly described the business in the typically anti-semitic terms of the time. Describing the Queen's Arcade and its failure he stated that:

Like many novelties, however, it ceased to draw [crowds] after a limited run, and from being a hive of competitive traders, it became, I may say from end to end, the leviathan emporium of an associated Jewish confraternity, who have furnished it in that heterogeneous fashion which constitutes one of the distinguishing talents of the Israelite community - delf, dolls, pictures, cigars, old clo' [clothes], jewellery, toys, perfumery, bad stationery, infirm musical instruments, with a blank office in a central position, where money is advanced on title-deeds or other valuable property, and bills are cashed at a rate that would lead a novice to suppose it was the principal and not the interest that was stopped in lieu of discount consideration.

Kelly, 1859, p.310

Theirs was not the only Jewish owned business in the Queen's Arcade. S & S Lazarus also owned a number of shops, and it seems likely that both families were in Kelly's mind when he wrote the above.

In 1857 the brothers advertised in the front of the Sands and Kenny Melbourne Directory, showing their addresses as: 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, and 56, Queen's Arcade. They listed their range of stock as Combs, Brushes, perfumery, Stationery, Jewellery, Musical Instruments, Cabinet Ware, Papier Mache, Berlin Wools, French China, Bohemian Glass, Basket Ware, Porte Monnaies, Pictures, Glassware, Games, Looking Glasses, Toys, Dolls, Boxing Gloves, Masks and Foils, Druggists' Sundries, etc. They described their stock to prospective customers as the finest and most extensive stock of FANCY GOODS in the Colony. They are now in constant receipt of Shipments direct from the Manufacturers; one of the firm having gone to Europe for the express purpose of purchasing goods suitable to the requirements of the Colonies.

The business moved to larger premises in 1858, at 24 Bourke Street East, between Elizabeth and Swanston Streets and remained there for several years. The brothers published an advertisement on the front page of The Argus, on 1 July 1858, stating that they were moving from the Queen's Arcade in the early part of the next month. Among other things, the advertisement stated that they had determined to relinquish the Retail Business they are now SELLING OFF The whole of their magnificent Retail Stock REGARDLESS OF COST. To persons furnishing this is a desirable opportunity of purchasing at half the usual price. A very limited time is allowed for the clearance of the present premises.

After a number of years they moved to the corner of Flinders Lane and Elizabeth Street, and later to 14 Little Collins Street. In 1890 the business returned to Lonsdale Street.

Nathaniel and Lewis retired in 1867, and Goodman took a partner, Walter Josephs. Alfred was murdered on the road from Beechworth to Melbourne, and Goodman shortly thereafter moved to England and managed the London end of the business. In 1896 Horace, son of the senior partner (Goodman), was admitted as a partner. When Walter Josephs died in 1907 the business was converted to a Limited Proprietary company.

In 1912 the business was still running at 271-273 Lonsdale Street, with a bulk store in Franklin Street. An advertisement from the time described them as Merchants, Wholesale Distributors and Importers, and stated that they also had operations in London, Hamburg and New York. Their stock had changed slightly over 50 years, being described as Enamelware, hollowware, aluminium ware, guns, ammunition, E.P. ware, chinaware, glassware, general crockery, fancy goods, basket ware, watches, jewellery, sporting materials, toys, fireworks, pianos, organs, "colombia" graphophones. Despite the changes (most significantly the addition of 'graphophones'), the business does not seem to have altered in its fundamentals.

Levy Bros. issued one token of penny denomination, dated 1855, as well as issuing trade checks. At about this time their premises were in Queens Arcade.

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