Framers in Focus: A series of essays on 19th century Melbourne frame makers produced by the NGV Centre for Frame Research.
The Campi business was established in Melbourne around 1853 and operated for half a century or so, mostly from premises in Russell Street. Initially it involved John (Giovanni) and his brother Angelo, and later their brother Abbondio. Subsequently, John’s son Achille, and Abbondio’s sons, also named Angelo and Achille, worked in the business. For many years the firm was a leading Melbourne manufacturer of large mirrors, known as looking, chimney or pier glasses. They also re-silvered mirrors and produced hand carved*Frame ornaments were traditionally hand carved in timber, while in the 19th century ornaments were commonly moulded using plaster or composition. timber and gilded mirror and picture frames.
In the beginning the business involved importing and selling looking glasses*An early term for a mirror.. In the late 1850’s the firm’s focus turned to the production of mirrors using large sheets of plate glass imported from England. At the time the mirroring of glass was a highly skilled and dangerous activity, involving beveling the edges of the glass and the use of toxic mercury mixed with tin to produce the reflective surface.
Campi advertisement from 1866, displaying a framed mirror. (The Telegraph, St Kilda, Prahran and South Yarra Guardian, 3 March 1866, p.6, State Library of Victoria)
As well as carving and gilding on-site the Campi brothers imported frames from renowned London firm Viscardini. Abbondio Campi joined his brothers in the 1860’s. Angelo died in 1873 and John returned permanently to Italy in 1877, from which time Abbondio independently ran the business. Some years later John’s son Achille came from Italy to work in the business and was added to the firm’s name from 1890. However, in 1894 Achille left abruptly for financial reasons leaving Abbondio to deal with mounting debts. On Abbondio’s death the business was operated by his two eldest sons Angelo and Achille.
A newspaper article from 1869 provides an in-depth description of the work carried out by the Campi’s skilled team stating that the goods produced are “quite equal in value to those of European manufacture.”1Herald, 15 Jan 1869, p.3. In 1870 it was reported that they employed 14 men and produced 4,000 pier glasses*A tall large mirror, designed to be located in the wall space between two windows, often above a table. annually.2The Weekly Times, 6 Aug 1870, p.10, cited by John Hawkins, Australiana, vol.40, no.4, 2018, p.41. Among their commissions, the Campi brothers supplied large mirrors for the rooms adjacent to the newly opened Melbourne Town Hall in 1870 and two grand mirrors for the State Drawing Room at Government House in 1876, although in the latter case the frames may be by Whitehead.3Hawkins, p.41.
The firm exhibited their products in all the major exhibitions in Melbourne, in 1861, 1866-7, 1875, 1880-1 and 1888. In 1875 Campi displayed a gilt mantlepiece mirror carved in wood with a crowning ornament of birds pecking at a bouquet. The frame also featured carved “dog tooth mouldings”, which researcher John Hawkins describes as a key to attributing mirrors of this period to the Campi workshop (or to that of Louis Musschialli, a former employee). In 1880 Campi’s large gilt mirror frame was described as “artistically carved and painted… in solid wood and gilded in water with double gold leaf.”4The Argus, 9 Dec 1880, p.53. In 1888 Abbondio is said to have employed the new silver nitrate process of silvering mirrors, which allowed the production of larger glasses and was much safer as no mercury was involved.5Victoria and its Metropolis, Vol.IIb, p.596, cited by Hawkins, p.42.
John Campi was born Giovanni Battista Campi in Raballesco on Lake Como around 1826 in Italy to Luigi and Maria (née Discacciati). He arrived in Australia on the 17th November 1852 on the Earl of Derby listed as a ‘miner for the goldfields’. John came via Liverpool suggesting he may have worked in England before coming to Australia, a likely scenario as he started his business in Australia soon after arriving, which would have required the ability to speak English. John went back to Italy for several years in the 1860’s, returning to Melbourne and then permanently moving back to Italy in 1877. In Italy he had four sons Italo Giovanni (b.1867), Achille (b.1869), Enrico (b.1880) and Giovanni Battista (b.1884). John died in Italy on the 29th January 1887.
Angelo arrived in Australia aboard Mobile on the 18th December 1854. Angelo had two children Angelo (b.1866 in Geelong) and Louis Alfred Ernest (b.1868 in St Kilda) to Sarah Jane Martin, however they never married, and the children did not take the Campi surname. In 1870 Sarah relocated to New South Wales, married and went on to have seven more children. Angelo died in 1873 at the age of 39 in St Kilda.
Abbondio was born in Italy in 1839 and arrived in Australia in 1860 aboard the General Wyndham from London listed as an ‘importer of looking glass’. He married Mary Jane Sturrock (born as Jane Gandon) on the 13th December 1877 at St Francis Church. They had 11 children ; Angelo (b.1875), Luviegi (b.1876), Enrico (b.1877), Italo Giovanni (b.1878), Arnistina Leonora (b.1879), Vergeinion (b.1881), Maria Elsie May (b.1884), Constance Albertina (b.1885), Achille Giovanni (b.1887), Ernesto Pierino (b.1888) and Lucia Marguerita (b.1893).
Abbondio’s influence can still be seen in the Melbourne suburb of Clifton Hill. In 1876 Abbondio purchased a two story, seven-roomed house with a balcony and veranda known as Brompton House in the main street of Clifton Hill. He then purchased more land surrounding his home, erecting a Post and Telegraph office that he then sold to the Postal department. These funds led to the development of seven buildings with decorative shopping terraces at 149 to 167 Queens Parade, Clifton Hill, that still to this day bears the name ‘Campi’s buildings’. Abbondio passed way in 1896. His wife Jane stayed at their home until 1903 before moving to Alphington.
Melbourne business addresses for Campi (based on Maddocks 1999* unless otherwise indicated).
|Benson and Campi||122 Russell St||1856 6The Argus, 23 May 1856, p.3.|
|John Campi||122 Russell St||18587The Argus, 12 April, 1858, p.2|
|Campi, J. and A.||16 Collins Street West and 122 Russell St||1872, 1873|
|122 Russell St||1874|
|Campi, A.||122 Russell St||1875, 1876, 1877, 1878, 1879|
|Campi, Abbondio||122 Russell St||1880, 1882|
|155 Russell St||1881, 1883, 1884, 1885, 1886, 1887, 1888|
|182 Russell St||1889|
|Campi, A. and A.||182 Russell St||1890, 1891, 1892, 1893, 1894|
|Campi, A.||182 Russell St||1895|
|Campi, A.||182 Russell St||1900^|
*These include businesses listed under ‘Carvers, gilders, picture framemakers and printsellers’. Listings under other trade categories are not shown.
^Listed in the Alphabetical listing of the Sands & McDougall directory
John Hawkins, ‘J&A Campi looking glass manufactures, glass bevellers, woodcarvers, framemakers and gilders, Melbourne 1853-1900′, Australiana, vol. 40, no.4, 2018, pp. 38-42.
Collingwood Historical Society Inc., ‘Abbondio Campi’, https://collingwoodhs.org.au/view/collingwood-notables/entry/169/, accessed 24 July 2020.
Dr Hilary Maddocks, ‘Picture Framemakers in Melbourne c.1860-1930’, Melbourne Journal of Technical Studies in Art: Frames, The University of Melbourne, 1999, pp. 1-32.
Herald, 15 Jan 1869, p.3.
The Weekly Times, 6 Aug 1870, p.10, cited by John Hawkins, Australiana, vol.40, no.4, 2018, p.41.
The Argus, 9 Dec 1880, p.53.
Victoria and its Metropolis, Vol.IIb, p.596, cited by Hawkins, p.42.
The Argus, 23 May 1856, p.3.
The Argus, 12 April, 1858, p.2