University of Delaware Library

Special Collections Department


An Exhibition at the
Hugh M. Morris Library
University of Delaware Library
Newark, Delaware

March 18 - July 15, 1996

curated by
and Iris R. Snyder

Copyright Statement


Before the era of the Home Shopping Network, of television, and roadside billboards, businesses offered broadsides, brochures and other printed catalogs to advertise their wares. These catalogs, considered insignificant throwaways at the time, have become documents of history for scholars in fields ranging from the history of business and industry to material culture, women's studies, and costume design. From simple price lists in the eighteenth century, the trade catalogs developed during the nineteenth century into multi-paged booklets filled with color illustrations, glowing testimonials from satisfied customers, and product samples. Advances in papermaking and printing allowed for the distribution of cheap but colorful advertising, culminating in that turn-of-the-century bible of consumerism, the Sears Roebuck Catalog.

The University of Delaware Library Special Collections Department houses an extensive collection of trade catalogs and advertising ephemera produced in the United States from the middle of the eighteenth century until the present day. The collection's strength is in its diversity. Rather than focusing on one type of product or industry, the Library's goal has been to acquire broadly and develop a wide range of catalogs that support research and teaching in a variety of disciplines. The trade catalog collection also complements the Special Collections Department's traditional strengths in the history of horticulture, science and technology, printing and publishing, and the book arts. Companies selling printing supplies, agricultural implements and nursery stock, type founders, publishing companies, and booksellers are particularly well-represented as are the catalogs of Delaware businesses.

"Trade Catalogs in the University of Delaware Library" offers highlights of the Library's extensive collection. Well known regional companies like DuPont, Burpee Seed Company, and John Wanamakers are represented as are obscure nineteenth century sellers of stuffed animal heads, patent medicines, water-closets, and buggy whips. The exhibit also includes a fascinating selection of early trade publications from internationally-known businesses of today such as Harley-Davidson, Eastman-Kodak, Anheuser-Busch, and Coca-Cola.

The publications themselves range widely in style and format. Many of the catalogs use lavish, brightly colored illustrations and well-known advertising images to present their wares. Of particular note are the nineteenth-century American seed and nursery books with their striking chromolithographed covers and plates designed to convey the appeal of freshly-harvested fruits and vegetables. Other catalogs take a more simplistic approach, often out of economic necessity, and sometimes consist only of a few pages of listed products; yet they too are of historic importance. The exhibition also includes a selection of the Library's strong collection of trade cards, posters, salesmen's sample books, and other advertising ephemera. These also range from brightly-illustrated, exotic presentations to crude printed lists with hand-written corrections.

"Trade Catalogs in the University of Delaware Library" strives to demonstrate the lasting historical importance of this often overlooked genre. In addition, the exhibition brings to notice the strong collection of trade catalogs housed in the Special Collections Department of the University of Delaware Library. The exhibition, curated by Timothy Murray and Iris Snyder of the Special Collections Department, will be on display from March 18 through July 15, 1996.
Printing & Book Trade Horticulture & Agriculture Home Furnishings Daily Life Trans- portation Science & Technology Delaware Businesses

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