Trade Catalogs
by Richard McKinstry

In his Guide to American Trade Catalogs, Lawrence Romaine discusses the usefulness of trade catalogs to researchers who were trying to understand our country's past: "Manuscript material and printed reports are indispensable, " he wrote, "but the catalogs that actually sold the nation the inventions and improvements are the backbone of business history." In addition, individuals interested in the appearance and cost of household goods of years past, architectural details, old hand tools, antique medical instruments, agricultural implements, the development of printing technology, and a host of other topics would do well to collect and study trade catalogs. Although they were originally intended as a short-lived merchandising tool, trade catalogs are now an important source of delight and information about the life of our forebears. Common forms are the mail-order catalog, catalogs that offered premiums to their readers, specialized catalogs geared to specific events like world's fairs, and catalogs issued "for the trade only."

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