The Illustrated History of Mail Order Shopping
Publication date 11/1/2008
7 x 9 inches (17.8 x 22.9 cm), Hardcover
272 pages, 375 color illustrations, 125 b/w illustrations
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Available for online reading at ebrary.com (subscription or short-term rental required)
Since 1872 when traveling salesman Aaron Montgomery Ward realized he could eliminate the middleman and sell goods directly to his customers, Americans have had an ongoing love affair with the mail-order catalog, which continues undiminished even in today's online driven world. The practical can find deals on furniture and clothing in L.L.Bean and Sears, the extravagant can consider his and hers matching helicopters, windmills, hot air balloons, and submarines in the Neiman Marcus Fantasy Catalog; those looking to get their pulses racing can browse Victoria's Secret and Abercrombie & Fitch; while our inner swashbuckler can travel the world through the pages of the J. Peterman Owner's Manual where Moroccan caftans, Russian Navy t-shirts, and wooden water buckets from rural China entice the imagination.
In Catalog: The Illustrated History of Mail Order Shopping, Robin Cherry traces the timeline of these snapshots from American history and discovers along the way how we dressed, decorated our houses, worked, played, and got around. From corsets to bell-bottoms, from baby-doll dresses and Doc Martens all the way to iPods, the history of these catalogs is the history of our lives and our culture. GIs during World War II were kept company by the models in the pages of lingerie catalogs; hockey goalies fashioned makeshift shin guards out of them during the Great Depression, and creative children across the country still play with homemade paper dolls cut from clothing catalogs. A number of celebrities got their start modeling for catalogs: Gregory Peck, Lauren Bacall, Katherine Heigl, Matthew Fox, and Angelina Jolie. Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan both got their first guitars from the Sears catalog. Organized into categories such as clothing, food, animals, and houses, author Robin Cherry explores the vivid stories behind Sears, Montgomery Ward, Lillian Vernon, Harry & David, Jackson & Perkins, and of course, 45 years of the Neiman Marcus Christmas Book. Insightful historical commentary places these catalogs in their social context, making this book a visual pleasure and a historically important piece of Americana.
Robin Cherry worked in direct marketing for over 18 years at Time, Inc., Rodale, and Dow Jones. At Time Inc., she was a Vice President for Member Acquisition at Book-of-the-Month Club; at Rodale, she was publisher of Organic Style books. For the past two years, she has been a freelance writer. She is currently a contributing editor for Lexus, a custom-published magazine sent to over one million luxury car owners. She has also written for Tavel + Leisure, Wine Country Living, and MSN. She has an MBA from the Tuck School at Dartmouth College and a B.A. in history from Carleton College.
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Sears catalogs appreciated, Boing Boing :
"While it is knee slappingly funny to gawk at the shag bathroom sets of the 1970's, the richest bounty lies in the early catalogs from a time that the Sears catalog really meant something. Before the interstate highway system and the internets tube system, the Sears catalog was a profoundly important and optimistic source. It was a catalog of empowerment. One day, you are Joe Nobody, without a fiddle or an egg for breakfast. Weeks pass and it must have seemed like a miracle when that new fiddle, kerosene-fired incubator and careful wrapped fertile eggs arrived in the mail. A community event, I suspect."
— Cory Doctorow
Marketplace of Ideas, Reason:
"In Catalog: The Illustrated History of Mail-Order Shopping (Princeton Architectural Press), Robin Cherry tells the remarkable story of how entrepreneurs such as Ward and his longtime rival Richard Sears revolutionized and individualized the American marketplace. They allowed us to shape our consumption and identity in privacy, without getting off the couch. "Mail order catalogs" Cherry writes, "show us how we livedeven if we did so in space-dyed Orlon pullovers and knee-high polyurethane boot socks from the Sears Catalog of 1971." "
— Damon W. Root
Pick of The Week, Publishers Weekly:
"In this fascinating and fully illustrated study, veteran direct marketer Cherry guides readers through the evolution of the catalog, defining its place in American commerce and culture. Starting with traveling salesman Aaron Montgomery Wards revelation in 1872, Cherry charts the rise of direct-by-mail stalwarts like Sears, Hammacher Schlemmer, Williams-Sonoma and Neiman Marcus. Beginning at the turn of the century, customers could order all the blueprints and materials they needed to build their own home; more recently, Neiman Marcus set the standard for extravagant gifts in their annual Christmas Book: his and hers Beechcraft airplanes, Swarovski crystal-encrusted Mr. Potato Heads."
The Catalog of Curiosities, New York Times - Papercuts Blog:
"Austerity may be fashionable this Christmas. But admit it, arent you still hoping to find a set of his-and-her dirigibles under the tree?That gift, from the 1979 Neiman Marcus catalog, is one of many lost wonders featured in Robin Cherrys Catalog: The Illustrated History of Mail-Order Shopping. In lovingly lavish photo spreads, Cherry traces the history of mail-order from the late-19th-century rivalry between Aaron Montgomery Ward and Richard Sears to the Internet revolution, which didnt so much kill mail-order off as give it another channel.Mail order, Cherry writes, shows how we lived even if we did so in space-dyed Orlon pullovers and knee-high polyurethane boots socks from the Sears Catalog of 1971."
— Jennifer Schuessler
Southwest Journal of Cultures:
""While Catalog provides a highly accessible and visually generous introduction to the history of mail-order shopping, the text also paves the way for future research...""
"These bibles of capitalism played such an important role in building the American identity... [Catalog] is an archaeological trove."
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