Pictures of Some Things You Want

04 October 2017

Cultural Studies | Gender and Sexuality | History

Trade Catalogues and the American Home is a fascinating resource which published in early 2017 that allows you to see the changes in American consumerism over the twentieth century. The collection highlights many aspects of American daily life from around 1850-1950. One such aspect: our (and I’m lumping us Brits in with the Americans, here) great love of Stuff. 

One thing I love about Trade Catalogues; it is a treasure trove of early attempts to sell said Stuff. These early attempts at marketing lack any form of subtlety or the advertising and PR spiel that we’re familiar with today – in our world of guerrilla-marketing, viral videos, product placement and celebrity sponsorship.  

A personal favourite catalogue from this collection is Pictures of Some Things You Want, a catalogue from the G M Williams company – a long defunct Connecticut department store – printed in 1896. 

Pictures of Some Things You Want, 1896 © University of Santa Barbara. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. To see this document in the collection click the image. 

The wonderfully naïve technique of simply telling people that they should jolly well purchase your products does not seem to hold much sway nowadays. The printing style is, understandably, simple; this text-heavy catalogue advertises sporting goods, seeds, farming supplies, household goods and supplies.

Trade Catalogues thankfully doesn’t just include early attempts at marketing, it’s possible to see advancements in advertising; with companies getting better at enticing people to buy their Stuff. The development of printing techniques and eventual adoption of colour-printing, ushered in the era of the glossy, full colour clothing catalogue, which are some other personal favourite documents from this collection. Or as I like to think of it: Pictures of Some Things I Actually Do Want.

So, without further ado, let’s see some Pictures of Some Things You Want throughout the years.

1900s

Hart Schaffner & Marx (which is still trading today) produced a series of heavily stylised ‘Style Books’ (which are more aspirational ‘look books’ than catalogues) throughout the early 1900s.

Spring and Summer, Hart Schaffner & Marx, 1906 © University of Santa Barbara. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

1910s

'Money-saving' books appear throughout the collection and are used to advertise affordable items throughout the twentieth century.

 The "National" Money-Saving Style Book, Spring & Summer, 1915 © University of Santa Barbara. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

1920s

Charles William Stores was a household-name and major competition for mail-order-giant Sears & Roebuck, until it merged with National Bellas Hess Co. in the 1930s.

Charles William Stores, 1927-28 © University of Santa Barbara. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

1930s

With the ubiquity of at-home dress-making it was usual for clothing catalogues to also advertise fabric that customers could fashion into the latest styles.

National Bellas Hess Co., 1930 © University of Santa Barbara. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

1940s

Sears & Roebuck, originally a mail order catalogue, began building department stores in the 1920s which aided their rise to prominence throughout the mid-twentieth century.

Spring and Summer, Sears, Roebuck and Company, 1944 © University of Santa Barbara. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

1950s

Evening dresses from Sears & Roebuck would have been sold via their catalogues as well as their department stores in the 1950s.

It's always in fashion to shop at Sears! Spring and Summer, Sears, Roebuck and Company, 1957 © Hagley Museum and Library. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

1960s

Although the time-period for Trade Catalogues is roughly 1850s-1950s, this Spiegel catalogue sneaks into the collection and brings with it the gorgeous styles of the 1960s.

Spiegel: the Golden Book, Fall and Winter, 1960 © Hagley Museum and Library. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. To see this document in the collection click the image.

With all these dresses abounding in this collection, the boys are not to be outdone with this ‘History of Men’s Wear’ catalogue which looks at changes in menswear from civil war uniforms to work and leisurewear of the 1950s (whilst selling you some outfits at the same time).

Men's Wear, 1950 © University of Santa Barbara. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

Trade Catalogues and the American Home is available now! For more information, including free trial access and price enquiries, please email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Catch-up on the recorded webinar on Trade Catalogues and the American Home by clicking here.

About the Author

Erin Pearson

Erin Pearson

Since joining Adam Matthew in 2014 I've had the opportunity to work on some fantastic resources including, Eighteenth Century DramaAge of Exploration and Ethnomusicology: Global Field Recordings to name a few!

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