26 Jul 21

Framers in Focus: W. J. Tiller


Framers in Focus: A series of essays on 19th century Melbourne frame makers produced by the NGV Centre for Frame Research.

W. J. Tiller imported and manufactured picture frame mouldings, made picture frames to order, and was also a picture dealer. The Melbourne business was established in 1879 and it operated for over fifty years. Soon after its establishment, the retail premises relocated to the newly re-built Eastern market,1The Eastern market operated from the late 1840’s, with frontages on Bourke, Exhibition and Little Collins Streets. In 1879 a new two storey market building was constructed, including shops on Bourke and Exhibition Streets. The Eastern market was demolished in 1960. School of Historical & Philosophical Studies, The University of Melbourne, ‘Depressions’, eMelbourne the city past and present, , accessed 15 Oct 2020. where it remained for most of the business’ operation. The business’ workshop had several different locations over the years.

Currently there is nothing known of how the owner William Joseph Tiller learnt his trade, but he appears to have been a true entrepreneur and canny businessman. Tiller won a diploma of merit for his frame mouldings at the 1885 Jubilee Exhibition,2(2) The Leader, 31 Jan 1885, p.38 and exhibited his frames, mirrors and mouldings at the 1888 Melbourne Exhibition 3Official Record of the Centennial Exhibition, Melbourne, 1888-1889. Published 1890, p.604, Class 17: Upholsterers and Decorators Work. which undoubtedly increased the business’ patronage. He paid for some unusual advertisements to get his name known in an increasingly competitive market. In 1885 the business sold framed copies of paintings which would “form a very handsome birthday or wedding present”,4(4) Weekly Times, 12 Sep 1885, p.15 and in 1886 promoted his business by mounting on calico and varnishing (for a small fee) a free map provided by the Leader newspaper as part of a government consultation.5The Leader, 28 Aug 1886, p.24

Tiller was a contemporary of prominent Melbourne framer John Thallon (link to essay). Entries in John Thallon’s business ledger (1888/9-1903) show that Tiller ordered two frames from Thallon, a large fluted*A carved or moulded repeated decoration in the form of parallel, recessed channels. frame in 1890 and a smaller frame the following year. The ledger also indicates that Thallon sourced frame moulding stock from Tiller, shown in two entries in 1891 for the client Wills. The first on the 12 March 1891 states “1 frame 1 inc oak [Tillers] german [6ft 5 inc] slip…”. There appears to have been a reciprocal arrangement of some sort between the two businesses. It has even been suggested that Thallon named one of his frame styles after Tiller, however this requires further research.6Claire Newhouse, 1999, p.88.

In 1894 Tiller pro-actively self-published and advertised a pamphlet titled, W.J. Tiller’s Amateur Picture Frame Makers Instruction Book, requesting quotes from the printers for 10,000 copies 7A copy of the pamphlet is held by the State Library of Victoria and it was advertised in (amongst others) The Elmore Standard, 22 Jun 1894, p.2, 8The Age, 1 Mar 1894, p.3 In addition to 12 pages of instructions, the pamphlet included drawings of stock frame mouldings (both imported and locally made), composition ornaments, small furniture items available for decorating, silvered plate glass signs for businesses, and the price list for frames made to order. There is also an advertisement to purchase a kit of woodworking tools required to make picture frames, marketed as a “useful present for a youth”. The publication was clearly intended to inspire confidence in the quality of Tiller’s products, with terms like “Liberal Terms to Good Men” and money-back-guarantees. And finally, he offered complete shop display sets of samples of the approximately 100 mouldings he stocked, presumably with purchasers receiving commissions for orders of his product.

Surprisingly for such a long-term operating frame business, we know of only one frame with a W.J. Tiller framer’s label, at the State Library of Victoria.9This is an empty frame depicted in Elizabeth Cant, ‘The deportment of paintings: The history of nineteenth century Australian picture frames’, unpublished thesis, Flinders University of S.A., 1998, Figure 261. It is a classical revival frame with a laurel leaf ornament at the top edge and a delicate ivy leaf pattern at the centre of the frame. The address on the label suggests a date in the early 1900s.

An image of a tool kit available for purchase on page 3 of W.J. Tiller’s Amateur Picture Frame Makers’ Instruction Book, c.1890. State Library of Victoria.

Example of a moulding illustrated in W.J. Tiller’s Amateur Picture Frame Makers’ Instruction Book, page 21. State Library of Victoria.

As well as selling copies of oil paintings, Tiller was listed along with W.R. Stevens (link to essay) as selling photogravure reproductions at The Photographic Exhibition held at the Exhibition Building in 1895, and is recorded by the Argus as having assisted the Amateur Photographic Association of Victoria to set up the space.10The Argus, 5 Feb 1895, p.7 He is listed in the newspaper as having applied for six patents between 1900-1914 for improvements to picture framing methods, and in 1914 for a “theatrical daybill advertising frame”.111900 (Patent #17,556): The Herald, 6 Oct 1900, p.3, 1902 (#18,679): The Herald, 29 Nov, 1901, p.3, 1904 (#1896): Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, 10 Dec 1904, p.1270, 1905 (#2176): Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, 14 Jan 1905 , issue no.2, p.16, 1911 (#1063): The Sun, 20 May 1911, p.11, 1914 (#13,480): The Herald, 27 Jul 1914, p.9 Between 1900 and 1920 the company appears to have paid a premium for advertising that prominently positioned the business in the trade section of the Sands & McDougall directories.

Tiller seems to have been an active member of his industry, being nominated as an employer representative for the Picture Frame Board which advocated on behalf of employers and employees for fair wages in 1908, 1911, 1914, 1918, and likely other years.12Picture Frame Board 1908: The Argus, 14 Feb 1908, p.6, 1911: The Bendigo Advertiser, 10 May 1911, p.5, 1914: Daily Herald, 17 Aug 1914, p.2, 1918: The Age, 29 Jun 1918, p.12 He had the fortitude and confidence to successfully sue members of the Victorian Legislative Assembly for lack of payment for work done. And in 1932 he provided evidence at an enquiry for the need to have low tariffs on imported glazing due to the poor quality of such products made in Australia.13The Age, 29 Nov 1932, p.8

Tiller died in 1933, with the business solely located at 84 Little Collins Street. The business was sold soon after, presumably with all stock and trade, to William Jarman.14The Herald, 21 Jun 1933, p.10 Unfortunately, a fire broke out at this site only a few days after it was acquired by Jarman, with loss of much of the back room and shop contents.

Biographical details

Born around 1853, Tiller’s birth name was William Frederick Harriman. It is unknown why he only used his birth name at his marriage and in the probate of his will.15The Herald, 12 Jun 1933, p.13 The Death Index notes his father’s name as James Tiller and his mother as Jane Smith.16Ancestry.com, Australia, Death Index, 1787-1985 (registration number 4267) [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010, accessed online 23 Sep 2020 No results were found for W. J. Tiller nor W.F. Harriman prior to 1880 in the Victorian Sands & McDougall directories. Brief research was undertaken into shipping passenger arrivals; if he was still using his birth name then it is possible he sailed from Sydney to Melbourne on the Lyeemoon, 18th May 1878, where a W. Harriman was noted in Saloon class.17The Age, 21 May 1878, p.2

William married Maria Buchan (also entered as Marie in some documents) in 1884 and they had a daughter Emily. Residential addresses include Clarke Street, North Richmond and Ormond Road, Elsternwick. The family appears to have owned the River Bend Tea Gardens in Warrandyte, with Maria and Emily registered as living there in the 1918 electoral roll.18Ancestry.com, Australian Electoral Roll 1918, Victoria, Flinders, Ringwood, p.39, entries 2279 & 2280 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010, accessed online 23 Sep 2020

Maria passed away in 1924 and William Joseph Tiller died on the 5th June 1933. One notice reads he was the, “dearly beloved father of Emily, beloved brother of Mrs Emily Griffiths (of Kalgoorlie, W.A.) aged 80 years”.19The Age, 7 Jun 1933, p.1

Melbourne business addresses for Tiller (based on Maddocks 1999, unless otherwise indicated)

Business name Address Year
Tiller, William J., picture framer 22 Bridge Rd, Richmond 1882*
Tiller, William 22 Stephen St (renamed Exhibition St) 1883
22 Exhibition St (previously known as Stephen St) 1884-1886
W.J. Tiller 22 Eastern Market. Factory 14 Market buildings, Little Collins street east. 1885, 1886 20Advertisements in Weekly Times, 12 Sep 1885, p.15 & The Leader, 28 Aug 1886, p.24
Tiller, William 14 & 22 Eastern market, Exhibition St 1887, 1888
Tiller, W.J. Clark St, Yarraberg (North Richmond) 1888
Tiller, William 84 Little Collins St 1889
Tiller, W.J. 84 Little Collins St 1890-1893
84 Little Collins St and Little Bourke St & 127 Stephen St 1894
W.J. Tiller Eastern Market, 127 Exhibition Street, 84 & 86 Little Collins Street, Factory 35 & 37 Gordon Place 1894 21W.J. Tiller, W.J. Tiller’s Amateur picture frame makers’ instruction book, Troedal & Co., Melbourne, 1894, cover.
W.J. Tiller 84 Little Collins St, Little Bourke St, & 127 Exhibition St 1895, 1896
51 & 20 Eastern Market, Bourke St, and 127 Exhibition St 1897
127 Exhibition St, Eastern Market 1898, 1899
127 Exhibition St, Eastern Market & 84-86 Little Collins St 1900-1909
127 Exhibition St, Eastern Market & 84-86 Little Collins St & 92 Little Collins St 1910-1913
127 Exhibition St & 84-92 Little Collins St 1914
127 Exhibition St & 84-92 Little Collins St, tel. 4802 1915
127 Exhibition St 1916, 1917
92 Little Collins St 1920, 1922,1923
84 Little Collins St 1924-1930

*Listed in the Alphabetical listing in Sands & McDougall Directory

Further reading

W.J. Tiller, W.J. Tiller’s Amateur picture frame makers’ instruction book, Troedal & Co., Melbourne, 1894. http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/138372, accessed online 25 Sep 2020.

Claire Newhouse, ‘John Thallon 1848-1918′, Melbourne Journal of Technical Studies in Art: Frames, The University of Melbourne, 1999, pp.81-98.

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.

Read more about frames at the NGV’s Centre for Frame Research

Notes

1

The Eastern market operated from the late 1840’s, with frontages on Bourke, Exhibition and Little Collins Streets. In 1879 a new two storey market building was constructed, including shops on Bourke and Exhibition Streets. The Eastern market was demolished in 1960. School of Historical & Philosophical Studies, The University of Melbourne, ‘Depressions’, eMelbourne the city past and present, , accessed 15 Oct 2020.

2

(2) The Leader, 31 Jan 1885, p.38

3

Official Record of the Centennial Exhibition, Melbourne, 1888-1889. Published 1890, p.604, Class 17: Upholsterers and Decorators Work.

4

(4) Weekly Times, 12 Sep 1885, p.15

5

The Leader, 28 Aug 1886, p.24

6

Claire Newhouse, 1999, p.88.

7

A copy of the pamphlet is held by the State Library of Victoria and it was advertised in (amongst others) The Elmore Standard, 22 Jun 1894, p.2

8

The Age, 1 Mar 1894, p.3

9

This is an empty frame depicted in Elizabeth Cant, ‘The deportment of paintings: The history of nineteenth century Australian picture frames’, unpublished thesis, Flinders University of S.A., 1998, Figure 261.

10

The Argus, 5 Feb 1895, p.7

11

1900 (Patent #17,556): The Herald, 6 Oct 1900, p.3, 1902 (#18,679): The Herald, 29 Nov, 1901, p.3, 1904 (#1896): Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, 10 Dec 1904, p.1270, 1905 (#2176): Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, 14 Jan 1905 , issue no.2, p.16, 1911 (#1063): The Sun, 20 May 1911, p.11, 1914 (#13,480): The Herald, 27 Jul 1914, p.9

12

Picture Frame Board 1908: The Argus, 14 Feb 1908, p.6, 1911: The Bendigo Advertiser, 10 May 1911, p.5, 1914: Daily Herald, 17 Aug 1914, p.2, 1918: The Age, 29 Jun 1918, p.12

13

The Age, 29 Nov 1932, p.8

14

The Herald, 21 Jun 1933, p.10

15

The Herald, 12 Jun 1933, p.13

16

Ancestry.com, Australia, Death Index, 1787-1985 (registration number 4267) [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010, accessed online 23 Sep 2020

17

The Age, 21 May 1878, p.2

18

Ancestry.com, Australian Electoral Roll 1918, Victoria, Flinders, Ringwood, p.39, entries 2279 & 2280 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010, accessed online 23 Sep 2020

19

The Age, 7 Jun 1933, p.1

20

Advertisements in Weekly Times, 12 Sep 1885, p.15 & The Leader, 28 Aug 1886, p.24

21

W.J. Tiller, W.J. Tiller’s Amateur picture frame makers’ instruction book, Troedal & Co., Melbourne, 1894, cover.