The Power of Wish Books
I recall the captivating images in the second half of the 1900s when toys, clothing, and household goods vied for one’s attention on glossy sheets of colored paper, the catalogs approximating the size of the now also-long-gone thick telephone books.
Montgomery Ward was the first to make a splash back in the day of black-and-white drawings of items. Ranging from a simple price sheet in 1872 to the 240-page “Wish Book” of 1883, it was not until 1888 that Sears entered the competition, eventually bypassing Ward.
Both retailers found many of their fans in the predominantly rural inhabitants of the American countryside, and area where prices stayed relatively high and selection low due to the limited retail establishments found there. The mail-order catalog changed everything, along with Ward’s “Money-back Guarantee”, a first for the fledgling industry.
By the beginning of the 1900s, the catalogs weighed approximately four pounds and offered kit homes, automobiles, clothing, sporting goods, housewares, toys and so much more. Whether or not one purchased, the tome was used to dream of what could be, to superimpose oneself onto the lavish pages. And of course, in country outhouses which were ubiquitous until running water became more of an everyday reality after World War II, old catalogs were often used as toilet paper and interesting reading material, one sheet at a time.
Do you remember these huge catalogs of yesteryear, particularly around the holidays?