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Our History

Our History

ImageOur History...


Birchalls has the distinction of being Australia's oldest bookshop. Opening for business in November 1844 on its current site as a seller of "books, stationery and fancy goods", Birchalls has survived the hard times and prospered. With over 150 years trading experience Birchalls has continued to stay at the forefront of retailing innovation and boasts five outlets state-wide. Welcome to the 6th store, Birchalls - Online.

"By advertisement in the Launceston Examiner of November 23rd, 1844, S.A. Tegg respectfully intimates that he has taken eligible and spacious premises in Brisbane Street with a splendid assortment of books, stationery and fancy goods arriving by every vessel."

This advertisement appeared 150 years ago and it was the first printed evidence of a functioning bookshop on these premises. As a bookstore Birchalls goes back to 1844 but trading from the present site goes back further still. In 1825 Michael Bates set up Australia's oldest pharmacy on the site. In 1841 Mr Bates moved his pharmacy to Hatton & Laws corner and a confectionery shop was established on the Birchalls site in the same year. In 1844 Mr S.A. Tegg bought the premises and established a bookshop. He later sold it to Robert Blake on October 2nd 1847, who became insolvent and the stock was sold by auction on April 4th 1849. The business was then bought by Huxtable and Co. on January 1st, 1851, and taken over by Mr A. Duthie, who had been Huxtable's manager, on January 24th 1852. Duthie sold the business to the Walch Brothers of Hobart, who appointed A.W.Birchall as manager. Birchall became a partner in 1867 and the business was carried on under the title of Walch Brothers and Birchall until 1893, when Birchall acquired the business and registered the firm of A.W.Birchall and Sons.

During the 1930's Birchalls imported most of it's books from England - very few Australian Books were ever sold. There were seven tables of books containing humour, fiction, general literature and rows and rows of leather bound classic editions.

One exterior feature of Birchalls in 1901 was the fluted huon pine columns each side of the entrance doors. Georgian windows in the building remain features today.

One of the first manufacturers of ball point pens was Miles Martin Aeroplane Company in England. Birchalls imported them and was the first store to sell ball point pens in Australia. They sold for 13 pounds and came with a five-year guarantee. Other items which have been stocked at Birchalls through the years were imported high class glass and chinaware from England, Holland and France.

An Art department was in operation in the early 1900's, Winsor and Newton oil paintings had been imported from England since 1853. Before the 'biro' Birchalls stocked a range of Waterman and Swan fountain pens. Quill pens were in use in the early days and it was necessary to carry a penknife which was used to shape the end of the quill pen to a point.

Historically famous as the oldest stationery and book sellers in Australia, Birchalls is also noted for its innovative and progressive ideas. One example is the humble writing pad, an idea of Birchalls. Before production of the writing pad, all writing paper was folded and sold in lots of 24 as a "quire" and fitted into a box which was sold as a ream or 20 quires. This inconvenient form of packaging and selling paper led J.A.Birchall to suggest to the famous British paper manufacturers Wiggins Teape a more convenient idea that the paper be cut into smaller sheets, packed on a piece of cardboard and gummed together at the top. The suggestion was considered outrageous and rejected out of hand by the directors of the famous British Company. Through the years Birchall persisted with this suggestion and a trial shipment of Silver City Writing Tablets were finally made up and sent out as an experiment. Acceptance by the public was enthusiastic as people started to appreciate the convenient form of new packaging. Sales increased and other manufacturers copied the idea using various types of paper and so the writing pad was born.

While depressions, wars and hardships crippled other bookshops in the early 1900's, Birchalls endured, partly due to some good luck rather than good management. However, it's transformation from a pioneering bookshop into an innovative retailer during the past 60 years can be attributed to the Tilley family.

Mr Ray Tilley, former Chairman of the Board of Directors began at Birchalls in 1937 as a 15-year-old. His responsibilities included sweeping the floors and delivering newspapers. Although he was young, Mr Tilley had ambition, studied retailing and slowly progressed from office boy to a salesman in the book, education, stationery and pen departments. As his involvement grew within the company his ideas and plans to improve the book trade grew apace. He is now a life member and past President of the Australian Booksellers Association

Today Birchalls is managed by Mr Graeme Tilley who continues to lead the company into the computer age with innovative technology to provide the best service to Birchalls customers.