C.G. Roeszler & Son, Engravers and Rubber Stamp Makers, 264 Little Collins Street, north-side, between Swanston and Elizabeth Streets, c. 1915
Reproduced from Melbourne: Garden City of the South . . . Melbourne, George Robertson and Co., 1915 [RHSV Collection: BL002-0030]
Historical research draws upon many sources – primary and secondary – newspapers and their advertisements, street directories, maps and plans, web-pages, diaries and other personal reminiscences are just some. This article about a family business, C. G. Roeszler & Son (established in Melbourne in 1870) , has been greatly enriched by the contribution of 90 year old Verna Schiess (nee Roeszler), grand-daughter of the founder, whose sharp-mind and long memory has supplied added detail to this research.
Charles George Roeszler (1846-1912), pictured in this card de visite held by the State Library of Victoria, had set up his engraving business in Fleet Street, London in 1869. Travelling to Australia he re-established the Roeszler business in Melbourne in 1870. He and his wife Rosa Agnes (nee Berwick) had two sons, Arthur Charles and Herbert. Herbert, Verna’s father, eventually took sole control of the company. Verna’s son, Gary Tregoning, the great-grandson of the founder, now runs the company. 90 year old Verna no longer takes an active role in the business. She commented “I remember the marvellous celebrations we had at our 100th anniversary, but it will be wonderful just to arrive at our 150th”.
264 Little Collins Street
264 Little Collins Street (in the reproduction above) is at least the fifth company address of C. G. Roeszler & Sons since its foundation in Melbourne. They first occupied these two-storey premises in 1900 sharing tenancy with four others. From 1901 to 1930 they were the sole occupiers of the building. The still extant lane visible at the side of the building is Masons Lane.
Scrutiny of the three images surrounding the picture of the building’s exterior suggests that the Show Room and Engineering Department were on the ground floor with the Engraving Department on an upper floor. Two hoist doors were on the side of the building (in Masons Lane). A cathead is incorporated into the roof above these doors from which block and tackle would have been suspended to enable the hoisting of plant into the upper floors.
Being common in industry up to the middle of the 20th century, a single source of power (gas, steam or electricity) would drive a system of ceiling-mounted pulleys from which leather belts would carry the drive down to power the various machines. Verna Schiess remembers “all those pulleys!” (In 1884 the company advertised a Steam Engraving Works at another location also operating in Little Collins Street.)
Whilst engraving was a major company activity, rubber stamp manufacture was advertised as early as 1883 and continued as a mainstay. Roeszler’s brass door signs were a popular part of the commercial pavement scene. Regularly polished, these subtly advertised the offices of doctors, dentists, solicitors and other professionals. Die cutting also was an important activity. Roeszler’s produced dies for the renowned copperplate business card. These offered a special quality – a raised and artistic image. Dies were made for the die-stamping branch of the printing trade – an intaglio form of printing. Today’s photogravure printing uses the same principle for glossy magazines.
Cutting, bending, scoring and brass plate polishing would have taken place in the Engineering Shop. Hand tools such as gravers and scribers would have been used in the Engraving Department. The pantograph was an important part of engraving, and so too was the etching process.
Some interesting side activities took place. For 30 years up to 1900, the company made and marketed soap cutting and stamping machines. They were also involved in the special security treatment of postage stamps. In the early years, postage stamps could be used as legal tender, thereby making them more subject to theft and misappropriation, particularly within businesses. To establish ownership and eliminate losses, businesses had the face of their stamps perforated with an identifying symbol, letter or numeral whilst in sheet form. The need for this process ended with the arrival of the privately owned franking machine. The Perfin Club of New Zealand and Australia especially devoted to the study of ‘Perfins’ and is aware of the Roeszler company.
The company has also established an artistic legacy of commemorative plaques and motifs all around the community. The 1928 Ringwood Memorial Clock Tower exhibits various examples of Roeszler’s fine craftsmanship. Others can be seen in places of worship like St Paul’s Cathedral.
The next major move was to 429 Little Collins Street in 1931, with an ambitious purchasing of the building. It was here with both parents becoming deceased, 22 year old Verna Schiess aided by her 38 year old sister Sylvia Curnow had to run the company with the help of qualified managers and accountants. Verna also described being located in a “long sort for” single floored premise in 1972 at 103 Hawke Street, West Melbourne. It was in 1987 when Roeszlers expanded and took over their old rubber stamp rivals – Adams Rubber Stamp Co (established in 1902). The business continued to thrive there, until a later move to 530 City Road, South Melbourne, where Roeszler’s remain trading as Adams Rubber Stamp Co. & C. G. Roeszler Engraving.
The rear lane at the 429 Little Collins Street, initially being an unkempt and unidentified works entrance is now ‘gentrified’ – the upper floors have become residential. The company’s name once proudly emblazoned in concrete relief on the upper facia is now sadly gone (but only recently obliterated). However, Melbourne City Council named the alley-way ‘Roeszler Lane’. (It had was un-named until late 1990s or early 2000s.)
Besides the image of Charles George Roeszler reproduced above, other portraits exist – one by James Peter Quinn (1869-1951). The possible background to this is intriguing. In about 1880 the guardians of a Melbourne orphaned boy, having possibly recognised his artistic traits, secured for him an apprenticeship at a city engraving company. After attending part-time at the newly opened National Gallery of Victoria, School of Design, he went on to become a world renowned portrait painter. Verna Schiess hopes one day to confirm her belief that the engraver was C. G. Roeszler and Son. Why else would the family have in their possession a portrait of her grandfather by this famous Australian painter?
REFERENCES and FURTHER READING
James Peter Quinn : http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/quinn-james-peter-8143
Techniques of the trade : http://www.baddeleybrothers.com/print-techniques/die-stamping; Perfins: http://perfins.com.au/
Lanes and Alleys: http://www.emelbourne.net.au/index.html
Ringwood Memorial Clock Tower: http://directories.maroondah.vic.gov.au/WIP/MHOnlineWeb.nsf