Co-Moderators: Dr. Linda Kruger, Supervisor, Art and Architecture Cataloging, Columbia University (retired), and Jean Hines, Librarian, New York School of Interior Design.
Jean Hines introduced the speakers, the first of whom was Dr. Linda Kruger, the co-moderator. She spoke about the origins and history of the trade catalog in the United States. While it is commonly believed that these catalogs were first published in the 19th century, Ms. Kruger presented the thesis that the first trade catalog was produced by Benjamin Franklin. Printed in his printing shop An account of the new invented Pennsylvanian fireplace was a pamphlet describing his invention of what is now known as the Franklin Stove. This brought more heat into rooms heated at that time by fireplaces. The pamphlet was first printed in 1744, apparently shortly after his 1743 invention. It served as a catalog, with illustrations of the stove and offered it for sale. The pamphlet was distributed throughout the colonies by the newly formed United States Postal Service which had recently begun on the East Coast in 1743. Orders could be sent and filled through the mail. This catalog predates the Industrial Revolution and British catalogs which have traditionally been considered the first trade catalogs. Ms. Kruger traced subsequent editions of the pamphlet with slides illustrating the publications and the stove itself. She placed it in historical context and discussed the format and other aspects of this earliest American trade catalog.
The next speaker was Iris Snyder, Senior Assistant Librarian, Special Collections, University of Delaware. She spoke about "Trade Catalogs as a Teaching Tool", making the point that historic catalogs offer unparalleled insights into earlier periods. The University of Delaware houses a large collection of trade catalogs and they are used by students of material culture as important artifacts. They are invaluable for information about such diverse subjects as horticulture, printing, furniture, clothing, agricultural implements and many other everyday items. The use of catalogs as primary sources for research cannot be underestimated. Examples were shown of trade catalogs which illustrated the history of printing, transportation, house construction and design as well as medicine, and local history and many other areas of interest to the scholar.
Bradley C. Brooks, Director of the McFaddin-Ward House, Beaumont, Texas next spoke about "The Use of Trade Catalogs for Museum Professionals." Catalogs are invaluable for the documentation of building and design elements as well as period objects in historic buildings. The McFaddin-Ward house has had extensive renovation, and a high degree of accuracy was obtained because of the large amount of documentation available, including trade catalogs. The catalogs are proving to be an important resource for architects and restoration experts.
Dr. Katharine Martinez, Member Services Officer for Art & Architecture, Research Libraries Group, Inc. spoke about "Trade Catalogs from Both Sides of the Reference Desk." From her experiences as a researcher and as a librarian at Columbia University, the Cooper-Hewitt Museum and Winterthur, Dr. Martinez spoke of the variances in collection development policies for trade catalogs and how different one collection is from another. She discussed how some of these collections were acquired and how useful they can be to the researcher. By examining trade catalogs, it is possible to understand more clearly the market for goods in different periods and what was actually available for the middle class to purchase. In some cases, however, trade catalog collections reflect what was available for the libraries to buy or collect and may not be as comprehensive a view of the availability of goods as one might assume. In showing slides, Dr. Martinez also described her current research involving art reproductions popular in the late 19th century.
Altogether, an interesting and rather broad ranging view of trade catalogs and their usefulness to researchers was presented.
Dr. Sydney Starr