Marcus Clark and Company

Marcus Clark and Company

From a modest start in the Sydney suburb of Newtown in 1883, Marcus Clark and Company rose to become one of Sydney’s largest department stores with a network of branches in towns and suburbs across Australia. Henry Marcus Clark (1859-1913) established the company in 1883 after purchasing the drapery business of his former employer, John Kingsbury. The business quickly expanded, trebling itself within five years, and soon opened new stores in Marrickville and Bondi Junction.

In 1896 Henry Marcus Clark named his new store on the corner of George and Harris Streets, Sydney, Bon Marché, a reference to the famous department store in Paris. The success of this store led to a larger building being constructed on the site in 1909 (The Hub) and also influenced Henry Marcus Clark to build more stores around Railway Square. The most impressive of these was the iconic ‘flat-iron building’, erected in 1906 at the corner of George and Pitt Streets. By 1906 the company employed 600 staff, having started with just six in 1883. One of the keys to Marcus Clark and Company’s success was that by offering both mail order sales and well developed credit facilities, it could greatly expand its customer base.

In 1913, the company boasted that it had 100,000 customers on its books. Unlike other large Sydney stores, such as Anthony Hordern & Sons and Mark Foy’s, which relied solely on cash sales, Marcus Clark & Company’s strong reliance on the furniture and furnishing trade meant that it could only capture a large slice of this business, especially of those on lower incomes, by offering credit. A time-payment scheme was set up, that by 1905 was called the Gradual Payment System. A booklet produced shortly after this date to promote the Gradual Payment System stated that 'if you had to wait until you saved enough money to pay cash, you might never be in a position to furnish a home'.

Following the death of Henry Marcus Clark in 1913 his son Reginald Marcus Clark (1883-1953) took over the business. The Company continued in family hands until taken over by rival department store, Walton’s, in 1966.

The Noel Butlin Archives holds Marcus Clark and Company records dating from the 1880s to the 1950s including meeting papers, correspondence, financial papers and a variety of printed material including many colourful catalogues.