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Trade Catalogs

Though seemingly ephemeral, trade catalogs are an invaluable source for the study of social, business, industrial, and advertising history. They have survived in abundance in many separate and, generally, uncataloged collections around the country. The American Antiquarian Society's holdings include a small number of early trade catalogs (price lists, circulars, special advertisements, for example), commensurate with the limited amount of trade material published during that era. The bookseller, the druggist, and the seedsman were the primary issuers of these catalogs, and their contributions to America's trade history are fully cataloged online through 1840.

The bulk of the Society's Trade Catalogs collection, approximately 900 items, spans the years 1831 through 1876. Many of the catalogues are undated, and a few are twentieth-century reprints of earlier items. They run the gamut from tiny leaflets to bound folio volumes, and testimonials and references from previous owners are common. The collection also contains several lavishly illustrated items. The Society holds trade catalogs on such diverse subjects as farm implements, heavy industrial and engineering machinery, home amusement, furniture, sewing, and decorative arts. Even funeral casket devotees and soda fountain historians can find treasures here. The Society focuses on the acquisition of seed and nursery catalogs, now owning more than one hundred such items, with at least fifty firms represented.

There is a card-file checklist, arranged alphabetically by company name, to be used in conjunction with Lawrence B. Romaine's subject-classified Guide to American Trade Catalogues 1744-1900 (New York, 1960). Also available is a separate checklist of our holdings of seedsmen's catalogs.

Pertinent trade items held in the graphic arts department should also be mentioned. Two distinct collections to note are the William Allen Son's Co. scrapbook and the Centennial collection of 1876. The William Allen Son's Co. scrapbook, given to the Society in 1981 by Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Knight, contains bills and circulars that deal chiefly with industrial machinery and heavy manufactures. A checklist of the contents of this collection is available for research use. In 1972, the Society purchased a collection of trade items obtained at the Centennial Exposition of 1876 from local bookdealer William Gavin. Although the bulk of this purchase is in the graphic arts department, a portion of it may be found in the Trade Catalogs collection proper. The Graphic Arts department is also home to a substantial number of trade cards for which a checklist is currently being compiled.

- Paula A. Biegay Huggard, former assistant cataloger, North American Imprints Program; updated by Joanne Chaison, Research Librarian.

Auction Catalogs
Trade catalog for Vick's flower and vegetable garden seeds

Auction Catalogs
Trade catalog for G. & D. Cook & Co.'s carriages

Auction Catalogs
Image of a jump seat barouche from the trade catalog for G. & D. Cook & Co.'s carriages


For current information on the cataloging status of this and other AAS collections, choose "Collection Access" below. Access to


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Last updated September 2, 2004

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