Over the last year, the handsawgeek library has been greatly enhanced by the acquisition of two highly prized additions:
Reproductions of the 1908 and 1927 Sears, Roebuck Catalogs.
Many a pleasant evening has been spent perusing the pages of these two massive publications and being immersed in a perfect representation of what life might have been like in early 20th century America.
Of course, being a hand tool woodworker, I was naturally drawn to the tool pages.
The 1908 version does not disappoint. It contains page after page of every kind of tool a home woodworker or mechanic could ever need. At that time, Sears sold a line of tools under the Fulton moniker. Pre-dating the Craftsman branding, these were mostly low end quality tools targeting the home-owner and farm market. Most of the tools were a product of the Union Hardware and Tool Manufacturing Company, but Sears did contract with other known tool makers such as Millers Falls, Stanley, Record, and others to supply tools under the Fulton name. Again, these would have been lower end tools sold at a price point aimed at the average consumer of the day. None of them approached the level expected by those whose livelihoods depended on good quality tools, such as cabinet makers and finish carpenters.
A good number of Fulton tools can still be found at flea markets and estate sales. If in good condition, most would make passable users.
I did note, however, that the brace auger bits sold by Sears at the time were quality Russell Jennings.
In stark contrast, the 1927 catalog presented a comparatively sparse tool selection. Perhaps this was a reflection of America’s relatively affluent economy during the period between World War I and the Stock Market Crash of 1929. The catalogs spanning the almost 20 years between ’08 and ’27 seem to illustrate a shift in emphasis from items of necessity to those of relative luxury. This was most apparent in the area of entertainment: the 1927 version devoted large sections to toys, games, books, sports, fishing supplies, phonograph record players, etc., whereas these items were virtually missing in the 1908 edition. The later catalog also contained a very substantial jewelry section.
Of additional particular interest in these catalogs to the woodworker are the expansive sections showing household furniture – every type of table, desk, cabinet, chair, bed, sofa, etc. that was popular in the day is well represented. A veritable showcase of antique / vintage furniture.
I might note here that every single illustration of products in these catalogs was completely hand drawn. Sears employed a vast army of artists and illustrators to accomplish this monumental task. I think this contributes greatly to the enjoyment of looking through these publications.
Also of interest to the woodworker and /or musician are the catalog sections depicting musical instruments.
Violins, mandolins, and guitars are well-represented, as well as a respectable selection of brass instruments. And…page after page of pianos! I find some amusement in a line that appears in most all of the piano product descriptions: “completely mouse-proof…” Apparently, mice taking up residence inside of piano cabinets posed a big problem of that era.
Another huge area if disparity between the two catalogs is in transportation. The 1908 version has a huge section devoted to horse drawn carriages, surreys, and wagons, wooden spoked wheels, horse hitches, collars, and accessories. The 1927 version? Many pages full of automotive accessories, tools, and “tyres”.
I could go on and on about all the other things found within the pages of these wonderful books, but it would fill a lot more than a blog post.
My recommendation is to see if you can find copies of these repros on your own. I found mine at yard sales.
They are definitely a good read that will fill many evenings.
Sadly, genuine original Sears catalogs from this era are pretty rare. Most were likely discarded each year after their usefulness expired.
It’s my understanding that the pages of many of them ended up serving as ‘disposables’ in the outhouses of the day.