Recently, I stumbled across a trade catalog that made me pause. As I looked at its vibrantly illustrated front cover, I thought of relaxing, summer days at the beach. It shows a bicyclist riding along the shoreline, a dog following closely behind, and boats in the distance. I also noticed one more thing. The name of the company refers to sewing machines while the front cover illustrates a bicycle. That observation sparked my curiosity to explore the pages within this catalog.
Author: Alexia MacClain
At first glance, this trade catalog appears to be typical. It provides general information for steamship travelers. But as I turned to the last few pages, I stumbled across something unexpected. It includes a handwritten diary of a passenger.
When it comes to building a new home, there are so many things to consider. Should it be multi-level or one floor? Will it have a basement? Do you want bedrooms on both floors or only on the second floor? What type of building material will be used? The questions might seem endless. If you were building a house in 1909, in particular one made from cement, this catalog of designs might have provided some inspiration.
Before we had online circulation systems, barcodes on books, and automated due date reminders, libraries used paper-based systems for everyday tasks. This required book cards, book pockets, charging trays, and the “ca-chunk” sound of a library date stamp.
Today the task of laundry is simple. We load machines with clothes, add laundry detergent and softener, and check settings. But essentially, the modern washing machine and dryer do the job for us. However, in the mid-19th century, long before our modern appliances, it was not so easy. Laundry was time-consuming and labor-intensive, so perhaps this pamphlet describing a “really wonderful invention” sounded intriguing.
Today in the 21st Century, we have several options for shopping. Two options that might immediately come to mind are visiting stores to shop in person or ordering online from home. But one nearly forgotten option is the mail order catalog. With the availability of the internet, we might not receive these as frequently as in the past, but browsing the Trade Literature Collection reveals mail ordering has been around for quite some time.
Every dwelling has its own unique qualities. How do you make your space reflect your personality? The furniture, decorations, and wall hangings all combine to make it feel like home. Let’s flip through the pages of a trade catalog and discover the possibilities of furnishing a home long ago.