SpColl 6: Mail Order Catalog Collection

Scope and Content | Inventory | Subject List

Scope and Content

The Mail-Order Catalog Collection consists of thousands of catalogs from nearly 800 companies. While the collection contains several catalogs dating back to the late 1800's, the bulk of the collection dates to the latter part of the twentieth century, and into the twenty-first. The catalogs are primarily from companies located in the United States, but there are a few international companies listed.

Mail-order catalogs are an excellent source for the study of consumer culture–from clothing fashions to interior design to food and beverages to personal computing, and so forth. Advertising and marketing strategies can be compared from company to company, or within a specific company over several years. For example, the merchandise sold by the L.L. Bean Company of today varies greatly from the male-oriented sporting goods advertised in their 1941 catalog.

As the collection has developed through donations, it is representative, rather than exhaustive, in nature. Due to the sheer volume of mail-order catalog production, the BPCL's collection is a selective list. The Mail-Order Catalog Collection is organized by company, and chronologically within each company.  A company and a subject list are available for the Mail-Order Catalog Collection along with the dates held for each company, where possible.  When no dates are available, "n.d." is used or estimates are made as to decade.

Some catalogs, most notably early Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward volumes, have been published as reprints, and are cataloged in the BPCL book collection. A complete collection of the Sears Roebuck catalogs from 1888 through 1967 is available on microfilm on the main floor of Jerome Library in the microforms collection (film HF 5467 .S4 A3).

This is an active collection, so stay tuned for updates!

Guide prepared by Amanda Spurr, under the supervision of Jean Geist, February 2000.  Revised and updated September 2008 by Stefanie Hunker.  Updated May 2012 by Stefanie Hunker.