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Leeds Pottery Trade Catalogue

Leeds Pottery Trade Catalogue

Thank goodness for online shopping, which is the only thing that stands between me and an annual deluge of mail-order catalogues.  They tend to pile up along with my intentions to look through them (and actually start holiday shopping early) before I finally give in and recycled them.  Of course, they’re ephemera; that’s what’s supposed to happen to them.  It’s hard to imagine, but who knows how valuable these catalogues might be to future generations of researchers seeking for information on how we spent our money, decorated our homes, chose our prize possessions?

Catalogues are some of the best resources we have when researching material culture history.  Census records, probate files and wills may all help tell us where people lived and what they owned, but when it comes to getting a clearer picture of exactly what those objects looked like and how much they might have cost, catalogues are crucial.  Curious about how many kinds of parasols you’d have been able to choose from?  You can browse through a catalogue!  For people interested in the larger picture of trade routes, style influences and the wages and costs associated with manufacturing, catalogues also help fill in gaps.  Looking through old catalogues with images like the Leeds pottery catalogue, pictured above, can tie an object to a particular maker, thereby making it more valuable monetarily or academically, and in some instances, as is the case with the catalogue from the International Exhibition of 1862, it’s possible to positively identify and verify a unique object while piecing together more of its history like those produced for display at the Exhibition.

The first catalogue of the Library of Congress

The first catalogue of the Library of Congress

You’ll find catalogues for everything from early twentieth-century Coca-Cola advertising campaigns to movie poster catalogues designed to help theater owners to select their promotions to nineteenth-century catalogues of American Indian photographs taken by some of the great Western photographers.  (It’s not a commercial catalogue, but I can’t talk about catalogues without sharing this first printing of the Library of Congress’s catalogue – it’s 10 pages!)  Catalogues and other such ephemera can have great value not just with historians but with collectors as well, especially those with complete collections who want to round them out with documentation, so check the database if you’re cleaning out an old workshop or office.  And meanwhile, think of the possible future rewards the next time you’re beating yourself up for still having that stack of outdated catalogues piled up on the back of your desk.  Remember that while the modern world may chastise a pack rat, historians everywhere bless the pack rats of bygone eras every day!

See all Ephemera > Catalogues in the p4A database.

-Hollie Davis, Senior Editor,

Ives cast iron walking horse drawn "Victory" cart, circa 1890

Ives cast iron walking horse drawn "Victory" cart, circa 1890, sold for $1,237 at Davies Auctions

Davies Auctions held a multi-owner sale on Feb. 27, 2010 at Judi’s Catering Banquet Hall in Lafayette, Indiana. The merchandise consisted of cast-iron and tin windup toys from two collections (including the longtime collection of John Lippman), a variety of vintage Christmas collectibles, and a selection of antiques, primarily country and Americana smalls. Only a few pieces of furniture were offered.

Snow and freezing drizzle in Indiana the night before the sale made the roads slick, but the weather didn’t appear to keep away bidders. A standing-room-only crowd was supplemented by a fair number of phone and absentee bids. Ninety-two lots of toys were cataloged. There were numerous uncataloged lots. The auction was promoted on Davies’ Web site, as well as AuctionZip, but there was no Internet bidding.

“I thought it did just fine,” auctioneer Doug Davies said of the sale. “There were probably a few soft spots.” In specific, he said prices for holiday items were down a little, and that the Baird advertising clock might have done better. However, the toys did well, with bids from as far away as Pennsylvania and Florida, while one floor bidder was from Kansas. The Alfred Montgomery painting also saw strong interest and did well for its size.

Successful bidders paid a 10 percent buyer’s premium.

-Don Johnson, Editor,

DeLaval Cream Separators 1915 calendar with illustration of farm boy feeding calvesCalendars are on sale everywhere this time of year: desktop calendars, day calendars, wall calendars, all with majestic photos or office jokes or beer-of-the-day recommendations.  We mark them up and tear them up, not paying much attention to the art work surrounding them, but a century ago, some of the finest American artists, household names today, were plugging away as illustrators, taking commissions to create beautiful images for display above calendars.

Advances in printing and manufacturing allowed for an explosion of advertising material starting in the late 1800s, and by the early 20th century, companies were giving away all manner of things, including wall calendars.  Companies like Coca-Cola capitalized on the fresh-faced “It” girl images, DeLaval Cream Separators went in for pastoral barnyard scenes like the one pictured here, while firearms-related businesses like Winchester and the Peters Cartridge Company cranked out dramatic depictions of hunters in the field.

If these images sometimes look like illustrations for novels, that’s not a coincidence.  For the first time, artists found they could support themselves financially, and hopefully find enough free time to pursue their own visions, by taking commercial illustration jobs, and they worked on advertising calendars as well as books.  Legions of great American artists benefited from this newfound source of income, and as a result, today’s collectors not only search out advertising calendars from specific companies, but from specific artists as well.  For example, this Winchester calendar was done by A.B. Frost, who worked as a painter, illustrator, and cartoonist, while Edmund Osthaus (see our reference note on him here) did work like this calendar for DuPont; Osthaus’s calendar illustrations occasionally bring almost as much as his sporting art paintings!  Even Norman Rockwell did calendar illustrations, so who knows what future artist may be creating the images for your desk calendar?

-Hollie Davis, Senior Editor,

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