Recently added to the many databases on the Ancestry.com site are the images of the ‘Historic Catalogs of Sears Roebuck and Company 1896-1993′. What an opportunity to view on your computer screen page after page of thousands of everyday products used by our ancestors. Nearly every home from the late 19th century and all through the 20th century had a Sears catalog book. This was especially true for rural households and small town communities, who lacked nearby stores.
The Sears Roebuck Company began their idea in 1888 with a simple printed mailer of select merchandise for customers to know what was available in their store. The concept caught on quickly and so customers were able to also purchase items in the form of mail order.
Richard Sears, the owner, had several slogans on the cover of his 1894 catalog. Sears wanted it to be known that this catalog was the “Book of Bargains: A Money Saver for Everyone,” and the “Cheapest Supply House on Earth,” stating that “Our trade reaches around the World.” Sears continued to add additional products to the catalog. There were sewing machines, musical instruments, bicycles, clothing for everyone in the house, guns, jewelry, watches, sporting equipment and even eyeglasses added in 1896. By the time Rural Free Delivery began in 1896 the mailing of Sears catalog became very economical.
In 1896 was when a fee of 25 cents for each catalog was added, but with the statement that the fee was applied to any orders over $10. It was in 1896 Sears also enlarged the catalog and added a spring and fall catalog.
By 1897 a color section was added. The color of shoes could be identified as red, brown or black. There was everything from cloth bound books to the Edison Graphophone Talking Machine in the catalog. The 1899 catalog featured color images of rugs, furniture, and dinnerware china.
For the holiday season the 1896 Sears general catalog included wax candles for Christmas trees. The 1898 Sears catalog added Christmas cards, and the first Christmas tree ornaments appeared in 1900. Sears began selling Christmas stockings and artificial Christmas trees in 1910. Electric Christmas tree lights made their debut in the catalog by 1912. By 1933 the Sears Wish Book or Christmas Book was also in circulation, filled with toys.
Not just home furnishings and personal items, but fraternal organizations such as Masons and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers even had the organizations’ pins available in the catalog.
Now having images of those historical Sears catalogs covering from 1896 to 1993 available through Ancestry.com, the family historian will have a better perception of their ancestor’s clothing styles, household items, entertainment, toys and furnishings.