Part 2: August 18th is National Mail Order Catalog Day!

August 18th is National Mail Order Catalog Day!

Catalogs have been around quite a while. National Mail Order Catalog Day celebrates Aaron Montgomery Ward who started his catalog business in 1872.

While doing some research, there are others who could wear the distinction of oldest catalog. Immediately, Ben Franklin. Yes, that Ben Franklin. Inventor. Public Servant. Founding Father. Postmaster General. Ben had a catalog of 600 book titles (academic and science books) for sale 128 years before Montgomery Ward.

So, who else besides Ben Franklin was cataloging before 1872? I had always heard about Tiffany’s so I looked at their website. Sure enough, their legacy includes launching the Tiffany Blue Book in 1845 and stating theirs was the first mail order catalog in the United States. Reading further, the catalog featured some high-end, remarkable gems. My guess is, New York society was their target market.

And perhaps a greater distinction should go to the cataloger who still mails catalogs…Hammacher Schlemmer going back to their 1881 catalog. The catalog still has innovative and high-end gadgets and gifts.

When you think of Montgomery Ward, it’s easy to think of the Sears Catalog. Richard Warren Sears sold watches at a train station which was his springboard to eventually launching a catalog in 1886. In 1892 he partnered with AC Roebuck to form the iconic Sears, Roebuck & Company. Two years later, the catalog was over 300 pages.

The Spiegel Catalog, made catalogs available in 1888. The goal was to entice those who lived beyond the city limits to make their way to the store in downtown Chicago.

Montgomery Ward, Sears…JCPenney. Penney started in retail (1902) and catalogs were part of a acquisition buyout deal in 1962. That’s how JCP got into the catalog business. Goodness me, I remember the order desk inside our local JCP. Order from the catalog and pick up your package at the store.

Before Penney was in the catalog business, you could order from L.L.Bean (1912), Eddie Bauer (1920), or Vermont Country Store (1945.)  Lands’ End was 1963.  Williams-Sonoma didn’t have a catalog until 1972.

Catalogs are part of the American fabric. In 1905 Spiegel catalog was the first company offer credit through the mail. Sears, Spiegel, and Montgomery Ward all sold pre-fab kit houses…and ammunition, livestock, and dress patterns.  Ahhh…the good old days.

Gina Valentino
Dean of Marketing,
President, Hemisphere Marketing, LLC


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