This article has been published a few times before, and I thought I would revive it, due to my own upcoming projects, and how Sears is currently fairing in the news.
Imagine my delight and dismay when I stumbled upon this goldmine the night before I left for a week-long trip. It was another week or so before I had the time to order it.
The 1902 reprint of the Sears & Roebuck catalog is a great tool to have for any historian or writer. Or even nostalgia lovers. And for anyone who remembers flipping through the ‘modern’ consumer catalogs like Sears, Montgomery Wards, and JC Penny, it’s an exciting and mind-blowing comparison.
Of course with many reprints, not everything is included. Repetitive pages and listings have been removed, but that in no way diminishes this treasure of information and knowledge.
The Sears & Roebuck catalog of the era carried everything you could ever think of and more. From food, drugs, photography, books, and stoves. Guns, to horse-drawn carriages and elaborate grave markers. Bathtubs. Wagon wheels. Musical instruments. A goat or dog harness for a cart. And of course, the old stand-bys we know today: ready-made clothing and of course the toys. Every time I flip through it, there is something new.
Although from my research, I’ve found telephones were in use in those days, but I have not been able to find any offered in this particular year’s catalog. Perhaps the phone companies issued them, I do not know.
The catalog begins with an introduction by the author. The next page opens with a letter by Sears & Roebuck explaining their catalog. What follows is familiar: FAQs about payment, prices, returns, shipment delays, how to order, and lists of freight charges for each state. There’s even an example of the original order forms, which gives me flashbacks to filling out similar ones in the early 1970s. For .50 cents, they would mail the catalog to any address.
Moving on, the first thing you’ll notice is the mass amounts of wonderful hand-drawn illustrations. The second thing will be the pricing. $8.50 American money in those days would get you a nice pocket watch or a bicycle. Pocket watches could also go for as low as .94 cents. An actual stove? Expect to pay $13.95 to $24.85. Of course shipping was extra. From birth to death, the catalog had it all.
The prices of the era are so in-your-face, it makes your head spin. It also clues you into what working wages would be like. If $10.00 American is within a nearly easy reach now, imagine how long and hard someone would have to work in order to have that amount back in 1902. Especially since that’s almost the price of a stove. In viewing the gallery below, you’ll see that luxury items like a horse drawn buggy was more expensive than the staple of a stove.
Rating: 5 stars. (The gallery below is displayed for educational purposes and historic data. Copyright by Bounty Books, a division of Crown Publishers, 1969. Softcover. ISBN # 0-517-009226)