Old Umbrella Shop, Launceston
Ms ARMITAGE (Launceston) - Mr President, the heritage-listed Old Umbrella Shop in George Street, Launceston is a rare glimpse into Tasmania's retail history and heritage. Although not Launceston's oldest shop, it is distinctive not only because it has a well-preserved street frontage, but because it still contains many Victorian-style blackwood shop fittings.
This charming old shop in Launceston is one of the last surviving retail experiences of the early 1900s and is a rare example of an intact early twentieth century store, including the original till. Originally the shop was opened as a grocery store in the 1860s, before being operated by the Shott family between 1921 and 1978. Three generations of the Shott family ran the store, selling their handmade umbrellas and repairing umbrellas. Initially, the Shotts were in the shop next door.
The land on which the shop was built was first granted to surveyor Thomas Scott, and was used as a grocery store during the next decade. In the 1880s the owner was Daniel Corcoran who operated a business called the White House Grocery.
Robert Walter Shott was born in England in 1858. After living in New Zealand, he emigrated to Melbourne in the late 1880s and established an umbrella shop in St Kilda. He later moved to Tasmania, where he opened another umbrella shop at 64 George Street, Launceston. An advertisement in the Examiner in December 1909 gave a vivid description -
For men, twill silk with 18 carat gold-mounted ivory handle for 30s, it was made on the best frame from Hoyland’s ribs so it could be covered again and again.
Silver mounted handles have reliable Partridge stems and Fox’s Paragon frames and are equally strong and durable, but cheaper than the gold mountings.
Ladies umbrellas are also mounted beautifully in 18 carat gold and sterling silver on ivory or pearl handles with cable chains to slip over the wrist.
The greatest of all novelties is the 'spring opening' where with just a touch, the umbrella simply opens itself, slips into its slot and remains securely open until the spring is touched and it slides down to close . All kinds of beautiful silks in floral panels, striped, checked and patterned silks and satins as well as black and white are in plentiful stock ranging in price from 4 shillings, 6 pence to 12 shillings, 6 pence and upwards.
Shott's specialty umbrella was the 'automatic frame'; it was flexible, easy to adjust but impossible to blow inside out in bad weather. Prices ranged from 6s 6d to two and three guineas. Expensive in those days.
Business flourished and the shop moved to 60 George Street. Shott introduced souvenirs in 70 different timbers - boxes for playing cards, bookends, peppers and salts, desk sets, mirrors, candlesticks and many more. Some of these made suitable presentation gifts. A blackwood walking stick was given to the Prince of Wales when he visited Tasmania.
Robert Walter's son, Robert William Shott, joined the business in the 1920s and built upon his father's reputation for highly skilled workmanship. R Shott & Son began selling and eventually making their own Tasmanian blackwood souvenirs. Many of these were marked with a round paper label on the base and a small silver map of Tasmania on the side.
Robert William's son, John William Robert, joined the family business in the 1940s. John trained in French polishing and became an expert machinist, while his sister Dare provided valuable assistance repairing and sewing decorative motifs onto umbrellas. Every civic guest to Launceston after World War II was said to have been presented with a handmade wood souvenir from Shott & Son.
R Shott & Son Tasmanian souvenirs replaced souvenir ware previously imported from Europe, particularly ceramic wares emblazoned with transfers of local scenes. Shott & Son's affordable range included everyday products such as eggcups, ashtrays and napkin rings and more decorative items such as clocks, walking sticks and presentation boxes.
The present-day shop, now owned and operated by the National Trust, continues to sell a large range of umbrellas and souvenirs, most of which are made on the premises; it also has permanent historical displays in addition to a variety of National Trust and Tasmanian-made products. It is now run by a group of about 85 volunteers, who are full of valuable information.
The front of the building remains a shopfront, as it always has been. The Shott family lived above their shop during their time there, but these days there are legal offices above the Old Umbrella Shop. Most of the original fittings from the site's 1920 opening are still intact. The shop attracts tourists from around the world, with people impressed because it is unique and a step back in time.
Mr President, the volunteers have a wall of brochures in the shop as well as their own local knowledge to share with visitors, focusing predominantly on the north and the Tamar Valley.