University of Delaware Library

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Trade Catalogs at the University of Delaware Library:

House Construction and Furnishings

Catalogs of house plans as well as materials from plumbing fixtures to house paint are included here. They tell us not just how the houses were constructed but how they were lived in during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The arrangement and size of household space reflects the lifestyle of those who lived there. These catalogs and others in the library collection cover homes from cottages to mansions to fit a wide range of budgets. Many building materials catalogs include product samples like the paint and roofing samples here. They are invaluable to the historian, having survived long after the houses they were used in were gone.

Also included are a wide range of furniture, appliances, tableware, decorative items, and household textiles. The catalogs document the dramatic changes in middle class American life from the Civil War to World War II. Trade catalogs of consumer items tend to focus on the middle class since the very low end tends to be filled by local tradesmen and the very high end focuses on personal service to a select clientele. What is very evident in these catalogs is the growing variety of goods and the increasing availability of delivery as the railroads and mail delivery spread to the rural western country. Also noteworthy is the educational component of these catalogs, setting standards for taste in middle class households for home decor and dining.


The Cabinet-makers' London Book of Prices, and Designs of Cabinet-work: calculated for the convenience of cabinet-makers in general: whereby the price of executing any work may be easily found; illustrated with twenty-nine copper-plates, containing above two hundred various designs, intended as a guide toward the prices. London, Printed by W. Brown and A. O'Neil for the London Society of Cabinet Makers, 1793.

This early volume has all of the elements of later trade catalogs--detailed description of furniture offered, illustrations, and prices for each piece. Its audience was the working carpenter and its stated goal was to prevent disputes between the journeymen and their employers as to the configuration and cost of standard household items. To present-day scholars it offers a wealth of data on the construction and design of furniture and the business economy of late eighteenth-century England.


Savery & Co.
Catalogue of Castings, Manufactured at the Philadelphia Iron Hollow Ware Foundry. Philadelphia: The Company, 1866.

The Company made a wide variety of cast iron household products for the mass market. Kettles, buckets, sad irons, and horse troughs were all available, priced by the number of pounds of iron used.


American Fire-Extinguisher Co.
The New Patent Fire Engine, the Extinguisher: Portable, Self-acting, and Always Ready for Action. Boston: Wright & Potter, 1867.

This very unusual early catalog includes an illustration of a fireman with the fire extinguisher on his back. It includes numerous testimonials and newspaper clippings extolling the virtues of the system. One of these describes a demonstration of the system at the home of the Duke of Wellington attended by "a numerous and fashionable assemblage of noblemen and ladies" including the Duke and Benjamin Disraeli.


Paine's Manufactory.
Illustrated Price List of Furniture: designed to give the purchaser a correct idea of what it will cost to furnish a home with elegant, substantial work, from the manufacturer direct ... Boston : The Company [1875.]

The multi-piece suites with their ornate carving and dark wood are the very image of what people today think of as Victorian furniture.


Edison Electric Light Company.
The Edison System of Incandescent Electric Lighting: as Applied in Mills, Steamships, Hotels, Theatres, Residences, Etc. New York: The Company, 1883.

This catalog from the company founded by one of the United States' greatest scientists and inventors is one of the earliest electric lighting catalogs.


Eisenmoebel-Fabrik Schorndorf.
Preis-Verzeichniss der Eisenmoebel-Fabrik Schorndorf, Wurttemberg. Wurttemberg: Eisenmoebel-Fabrik Schorndorf, ca. 1884.

This large broadside, the details of which are almost overwhelming, was issued with this German firm's catalog of garden ornaments and furniture.


Seeley Brothers.
[Catalog]. New York: The Company, [1889].

A beautifully produced catalog showing the exteriors of many of the classic "gingerbread" style Victorian houses.


Meyer-Sniffen Co.
Illustrated Catalogue "C." New York: The Company, 1891.

This was a costly catalog to produce with illustrations in several colors, overprinted in gold. Its audience was probably architects since it includes many products for both homes and businesses.


Simpson, Hall, Miller & Co.
Catalogue and Price List of the Wm. Rogers Spoons, Forks, Knives, etc.: in extra, triple and sectional plates ... Wallingford, Conn.: The Company, ca. 1894.

Offering everything for the table from cucumber servers to julep strainers, the catalog reflects the complex dining etiquette of America in the late-Victorian era. Wm. Rogers silverplate is still a familiar name in dinnerware.


H. W. Johns Manufacturing Co.
Artistic House Painting. New York: H.W. Johns Manufacturing Co., 1895.

The printed illustrations in this catalog are so delicately done that they appear to be individual watercolor paintings. The Company lists many hotels and public buildings which used their paints, among them the U.S. Capitol and the Dakota Apartment House in New York City.


Somersworth Machine Company
Catalogue of the Somersworth Machine Company. Dover, N.H. : The Company, 1896.

While there was a wide variety of designs and decorations on stoves in the 1890s, the vast majority still burned coal or wood. Stoves using kerosene and gas had been available since the 1850s, but many considered them too dangerous for household use. A few of the stoves in this catalog include a gas attachment recommended for summer use.


Ohio Varnish Company.
Chi-namel for Staining and Varnishing in One Operation: Also Graining, Staining and Varnishing ... Cleveland: The Company, ca. 1900.

At the end of the nineteenth century, advertisers frequently used oriental images even when the products had no connection to the Far East. The inclusion of paint chips makes this catalog of particular interest to scholars of the decorative arts.


Meurer Bros. Co.
Samples of Their Guaranteed Brands of Roofing Tin. Brooklyn: The Company, ca. 1900.

This catalog consists of actual samples of tin and lead plate for roofing.


Wing & Son, New York.
The Book of Complete Information about Pianos. New York: The Company, 1900.


Kramer Bros. & Co., New York.
Catalogue of Art Bent Glass Domes, Lamps and Semi-indirect Lighting Showers. New York: The Company, ca. 1905.

The catalog reflects the increased electrification of American homes, stating that all lamps are now available wired for the same price as for gas. Many of the designs show the influence of Tiffany and the Arts and Crafts Movement.


Gates Potteries.
Teco Pottery, America. Chicago: Press of the Campbell Company, 1906.

This catalog of decorative vases is unusual in its emphasis on the designer who is named in the description of each piece. Both the designs and the philosophy of the company are strongly influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement. While the designs are simple and uncluttered, the catalog text still carries the hyperbole of the turn of the century salesman as it describes Teco Pottery as "the most serious contribution that America has yet made to the eternal art of the world."


E.F. Hodgson.
Wigwarm Portable Houses. Dover, Mass.: The Company, 1907.

These portable homes were the recreational vehicles of the early century. The Company advertised them as easily assembled by "men of ordinary ability." The availability of the automobile made it possible to build one's portable house "on some lake or bay away from the humdrum of a city or town or in the mountains where the grandeur of the scenery soon makes one forget his worldly cares and makes life worth living."


Johnston-Kurtz Company
The Book of the Johnston-Kurtz Company Willow: being a little talk about this beautiful furniture with a selection of correct and sensible styles. Buffalo: The Company, 1911.

Chairs, tables and cribs were made by hand from willow grown in France. The look was much lighter than the traditional Victorian parlor sets of twenty years before.


National Architects' Union.
Colonial Houses for Modern Homes. Philadelphia, Pa.: The Company [1913.]

The Colonial Revival style in architecture and decorating was very popular early in this century. Designs harkened backed to the relative simplicity of the late eighteenth century home designs and away from the ornate "gingerbread" style of the Victorian era. While referred to as "colonial," these models are a mixture of many architectural styles. The prices of these homes ranged from $2,200 to $12,000.


W.H. Mullins Co.
Statues in Stamped Copper and Bronze. Salem, Ohio: The Company, 1913.

This is a beautifully designed and printed catalog. Most of it consists of photographs of war monuments produced by the company.


Murphy Door Bed Company.
Year book. New York: The Company, 1924.

According to the advertising, the "bed in the closet" first developed in California, before spreading to the east coast in the early 1920s. This catalog is particularly valuable for its detailed floor plans of apartment buildings and hotels in New York and Philadelphia


Excelsior Stove & Manufacturing Co.
National Stoves and Ranges in Choice-Captivating-Characterizing-Commanding-Colors at a Price Less Than You Expect to Pay. Quincy, Ill.: Excelsior Stove and Manufacturing Co., ca. 1924.


Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company of Canada.
The Billiard Book: Showing the Complete Process of Manufacture of English, Pocket and Carom Billiard Tables and Illustrating All Latest Designs. Toronto: The Company, ca. 1930.


J.H. Thorp & Co.
A Collection of Distinctive Hand-block Printed Linens & Cretonnes. New York: The Company, ca. 1920.

Clearly aimed at an upscale market, the catalog of imported upholstery fabric includes a brief history of each design as well as a description of the hand-block printing process. The quality of the illustrations and multi-color printing made this a very expensive catalog to produce.


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