By Holly Hurd-Forsyth, MHS Registrar/Collections Manager
Trade catalogs, due to their ephemeral, commonplace nature, are frequently overlooked as sources of information on American industrial, manufacturing, and merchandising history. Trade catalog scholar Lawrence Romaine asserts, “If a complete history of American manufacture is ever to be compiled, American trade catalogs will unquestionably be one of the most valuable sources of material available.” Maine Historical Society collects these publications and makes them available to researchers in the Brown Research Library.
The catalogs date from the early 19th century to the present day and represent small town manufacturers long out of business, to large companies that continue to operate internationally, such as L. L. Bean & Thos. Moser. They provide an invaluable look into what was manufactured and sold in Maine and America at different time periods, and how those goods were advertised and priced. The variety of merchandise offered is impressive, including bicycles (1890), door locks and hardware (1868), automobile supplies (1908), vacation homes (1925), and teacher’s necessities, such as report cards, diplomas, awards of merit, and easy readers (1889). One catalog is dedicated to prefabricated silos (1913).
One of the earlier catalogs at MHS, dated 1862, is Pure Blood Devons for Sale by John F. Anderson Maplewood Farm, South Windham, Maine U.S.A, andf eatures pedigreed cattle. Then as now, free shipping sweetened the pot: “Animals sold will be delivered on board the boat or cars at Portland, free of charge, and hay provided.”
The H. S. Houghton & Co. Collection (Coll. 2749), is a recent gift to the MHS library, and contains many trade catalogs sent to Herman Stinson Houghton from manufacturers asking him to carry their products in his store. Houghton was a dealer in hardware, stoves, and tin goods in Wilton.