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Older people of today remember them all right: those heavy Sears, Roebuck catalogs that arrived free of charge each year and enticed families to order clothing, household items and hundreds of other products that families needed.
Young girls loved to look through the clothing pages and dream of being old enough to wear the colorful, stylish clothing, jewelry, handbags, shoes and intimate apparel.
Boys also wanted to order clothing, but they loved to peruse the pages of sporting equipment. There was no end to what they could have if their parents were willing to send off an order with payment.
Women as well as men saw numerous items for sale for the home, yard and farm.
The mail-order business was a brilliant marketing technique, a fabulous success story and a boon to the company and to the millions of customers. The Sears, Roebuck catalogs were in almost every home.
Many of us have seen copies of the 1908 Sears, Roebuck Catalogue: A Treasured Replica from the Archives of History. This publication came out in the late ‘60s and became popular as a way to reminisce and maybe to induce amusement and laughter at the way things were in the early years of the 20th century.
Thumbing through this catalog is a lesson in history, sociology, medicine, transportation, farming practices, fashion and so many other aspects of life at that time in the life of our country. Today’s youth would be amazed and amused at what life was like more than 100 years ago.
Inside the front cover is printed in its entirety the poem, “ The Catalogue,” by Edgar A. Guest. Many people of that day adored the homey, comfortable poems by Guest, so the presence of this poem was a brilliant introduction to the publication and gave the catalog experience a feeling of comfort and love for home and style.
A balance sheet for the 1907 business year for Sears, Roebuck & Co. was printed near the front of the book, proof of the company’s success and solvency.
Pictured in the catalog were a number of dinnerware sets that might have caught the eyes of many housewives. One set, the Imperial Faience Dinner Set, with 100 pieces and a price of $10.39, would set a nice table for ordinary families. Several other more expensive sets were also available. Many of today’s older people might remember dinnerware from Sears, Roebuck on their grandmother’s dining table.
If people needed vehicles, they could order a road wagon or a surrey from the catalog and purchase saddles and harnesses for the animals that pulled them. Bicycles from the same catalog provided less expensive transportation.
What about furniture? No problem. Just order your couches, chairs, roll-top desks or whatever you needed to make the home complete. Sewing machines — even those Minnesota Cabriolets — were right there on the page. To go under all these pieces one could purchase a rug or two or a lovely pattern of linoleum.
State-of -the-art cookstoves were available for purchase, making cooking a pleasure, as the description promised. Fuel for many of the pictured stoves could be hard coal, soft coal, coke and corn cobs, and the stoves were on legs so that one could sweep under them, certainly an improvement over previous stove models.
For sale were cream separators, horse clippers and sheep shearers and heating stoves that would keep a living room toasty.
Sears, Roebuck knew that people of that day needed time for hobbies and diversion, so the catalog included pictures of boats, fishing equipment, stereoscopic views, cameras in black boxes, board games and many other ways to have fun. The Ouija board might have been a hot item back then.
Every home needed a supply of flypaper, rat killer and other means of getting rid of pests, as well as a variety a home remedies and toiletries that should not be mentioned in polite company. Spectacles, clocks and tobacco pipes were also for sale. Sears, Roebuck had it all.
And the clothing. Oh my! An array of dresses that just barely covered the tops of a woman’s shoes and the under things took up numerous pages in the catalog. Some of these items of clothing looked uncomfortable and clumsy, yet they were at the peak of fashion. Clothing accessories were pictured on many pages as well.
Hundreds of other items were pictured in the catalog, items that recount history of our country and its way of life during a previous era.
At the back of the book, the editors included a drawing of the 40-acre Sears, Roebuck & Co., the Largest Mercantile Plant in the World, the pride of Chicago.
Changes have come about in the company since those earlier years. Sears and Roebuck went their separate ways, and the catalog is no longer shipped to homes free of charge, since other marketing techniques have become the norm.
Sears, Roebuck & Co. had its heyday and made shopping easy for people who did not live near metropolitan areas. The catalog concept made its mark in earlier times and is still in use today, yet not all companies have been as successful.
If I could order something from the catalog replica, I would consider purchasing one of those good-looking surreys.
I would have to buy some horses, or course, and I would not think of ordering a surrey unless it had fringe on the top.
Sanda Baucom Hight is retired from Wilson County Schools after serving as an English teacher and is currently a substitute teacher in Wilson County. Her column focuses on the charms of home, school and country life.