on December 2, 2002
The 786 - page reprint of the 1897 Sears, Roebuck & Co. Catalogue is a priceless piece of Americana. Profusely illustrated, readers will enjoy studying the surprisingly enormous range of consumer goods then available, most of which are obsolete or little used in American life today. From the $4.90 'Cast Iron Pig Trough' to the $3.00 'Cleveland Ball Bearing Wringer,' from the $1.75 'Magic Lantern Slide Projector for Juveniles' to the $3.35 'Velocipedes' bicycle and the $2.00, mohair-covered 'Ear Trumpet,' readers will turn the pages in delighted awe. Those interested in fashion and costuming will find the extensive pages on clothing remarkable. The average description for most items tallies at about 100 words, most of which are superfluous but fun to read.
There are 55 very detailed pages on clothing, hats, and accessories for men and boys, including $6.95 'Cashmere Suits,' $9.90 'Blue Flannel Grand Army Of The Republic Suits,' and 'Brownie Suits,' 'Fancy Sailor Suits,' and 'Children's Kilt Suits.' These sections are bolstered by idealized figures of mustached men strolling by the seaside in striped suits and straw boaters, pipe - smoking deep thinkers poised in velvet smoking jackets, and bashful lads posing in knee britches.
An equal number of pages are devoted to clothing, shoes, hats, and other accessories for women and girls, including 'Dr. Warner's Abdominal Corset' made with "extension steels, side lacings, and elastic gores on each side," girl's "reefer jackets," the $2.95 'Rich's Patent "Julie Marlowe" Lace Boot,' and 2 pages of heavily - festooned women's hats with names like 'the Leader,' 'the Susanne,' 'the Evangeline,' and 'the Bon Ton.' Presciently, many of the illustrations of women look remarkably like the matronly Mary Astor in the 1941 classic 'Meet Me In St. Louis.'
Especially interesting and comical are the items listed under 'Drug Department.' Here are found 'Injection No. 7,' which "is a reliable cure for all troubles of the urinary organs...no matter how severe the case,' and 'Dr. Rose's Obesity Powders' which explains that "too much fat is a disease and a great annoyance to those afflicted. . .it produces fatty degeneration of the heart, and sudden death results," and 'Beef, Iron, and Wine' nutritive, which, at $2.50 a gallon, was apparently very popular, "something no family should be without...used for extreme exhaustion caused by brain fatigue, eruptions, scrofula, and...depraved conditions of the blood."
There are 'vegetable cures' for 'female weakness' and 'fig laxatives,' 'Mexican Headache Cures' and 'Indian Cough Syrups,' 'microbe killers,' and "perfectly harmless" 'arsenic complexion wafers' which produce "pellucid clearness of complexion." "Reliable Worm Syrup and Worm Cakes" cure "the disease so fatal to children" and comes in "convenient form for children to take, which they readily do, thinking it is candy." 'Dr. Chaise's Nerve And Brain Pills' is a cure for those with "overworked sexual excesses."
Special mention should be given to the Sears, Roebuck & Co.'s own $0.75 brand 'Reliable Cure For the Opium And Morphia Habit,' which will "completely destroy that terrible craving for morphine . . .and free those victims from their terrible bondage." The 'Princess Bust Developer' and 'Princess Bust Cream Food' can be purchased separately or together for $1.46. Prepared by "an eminent French chemist," the bust cream promises a "plump, full, rounded bosom," while the bust developer, which comes in both 4 and 5 inch sizes, looks like a toilet plunger and is perfect "if nature has not favored you." Another ad educates potential women buyers by stating that "no worse affliction can befall a woman's face than to see a horrible growth of coarse hairs springing out like bristles," making her "disfiguring to behold." Oddly, 'Strangle Food' for cockroaches and 'Rat Killer - The Great Vermin Destroyer' are included among health and beauty products for the family.
Despite the exaggerated and misleading claims, this volume is overwhelmingly wholesome in nature, and provides an educational glimpse into the lives, consumer habits, social mores, and advertising methods of Americans of the era. Throughout, there are extended pages devoted to excerpts from grateful consumer letters with headings like "Proud Of The Buggy," "Perfectly Satisfied With The Revolver," "Everybody Says The Watch Is A Dandy," and "I Do Not Know A More Fair Or Honorable Firm." These pages are one of the catalogue's few disappointments, since the 'letters' are suspiciously uniform in tone, phrasing, and praise.
Other sections include 'Vehicle, Harness, and Saddlery,' 'Crockery And Glassware,' 'Watch And Jewelry,' 'Musical Goods,' 'Furniture,' 'Books And Stationary,' and 'Builder's Hardware And Material.'