A history of mail order catalogs is helpful in understanding the time line of tese catalogs and the clothing sold through them. Sears-Roebuck and Montgomery Ward catalogs were the great cornucopias of material goods for the early 20th century. All the new things
that were changing American life danced across their pages. Through it, huge warehouses offered to modernize the farms and small towns of the Midwest. The booming city of Chicago was the center of the American wholesale dry goods trade at mid-century. It was thus no accident as the railroad spread out through the midwest that the two giants of American merchanizing were born in Chicago. Creating a huge industry is only part of the impact made by Aaron Montgomery Ward. The lifestyles of America were altered by catalog merchandising. Not only material but social and cultural aspects of American life were deeply affected. In 1946, the Grolier Society in New York included the Montgomery Ward catalog in its collection of 100 American books chosen for their bearing on the life and culture of the people. In the words of the Grolier selection committee, "The Mail order catalog has been perhaps the greatest single influence in increasing the standards of American middle-class living." While Sears and Wards were the first companies, they were followed by many others. Pennys was especially important in America. Quelle was very important in Germany.
Although the word "consumerism" has a modern ring, it was personal concern for an early consumer movement, the "National Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry," That inspired a young traveling salesman named Aaron Montgomery Ward to start the world's first general merchandise mail-order company in 1872. Aaron Montgomery Ward was born on February 17, 1844, in Chatham, New Jersey, to a family whose forebears had served as officers in the French and Indian Wars as well as in the American Revolution. Looking for something more compatible, Monty left home and followed the river to Lake Michigan and the town of St. Joseph, county seat and market for outlying fruit orchards. Chicago was the center of the wholesale dry goods trade and in the 1860s Ward joined the leading dry goods house, Field Palmer & Leiter. As a retailer, Potter Palmer had previously built a reputation for fair dealing. Ward absorbed these principles while working as a clerk for $5. The Chicago City Directories for 1868 through 1870 listed Ward as a salesman for Wills, Greg & Co. and later for Stetthauers & Wineman,
both dry goods houses. In 1870, after canvassing territory in Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Ward was again footloose. The plan shaping in Ward's mind was to buy goods at low cost for cash. By eliminating intermediaries, with their markups and commissions, and cutting selling costs to the bone, he could offer goods to people, however remote, at appealing prices - for cash. Since its founding in 1872, the company has literally "grown up with America" and has had a major impact on the shopping habits of a nation of consumers. Montgomery Ward & Co. discontinued its catalog operations in 1985
as part of its restructuring effort to change itself into a modern, competitive chain of value-driven specialty stores, a move which for a time saved the company.
The Sears, Roebuck and Co., huge merchandising firm centered in Chicago was founded by Richard W. Sears (1863-1914) and A.C. Roebuck (1864-1948). Sears had begun a career in mail-order business in Minnesota 1886. In Chicago he and Roebuck joined resources and formed a corporation in 1893 as a mail-order business under title Sears, Roebuck and Company. In 1895 Julius Rosenwald (1862-1932) bought Roebuck's interest in firm and became president on Sears's retirement 1908. A retail-store system was added 1925. The first foreign store added in Havana, Cuba during 1945 and becane te first expropriated store in 1960. The Sears-Roebuck brought the production of industry to the fartherest corner of rural America, opening the cornucopia of the consumer age to rural America. All the new things that were changing American life danced across their pages. Through it, a huge Chicago warehouse offers to modernize the farms and small towns of the Midwest.
The Best & Company appaers to have been an important New York City department store that went natioanl. The built a large store at 645 5th Avenue at East 51st Street, NE Corner (Wing on 52nd Street). It was located in Midtown Manhattan. The building was replaced by the Olympic Tower of Aristotle Onassis. I am not sure when the company was founded, but it must have been in the mid-19th century. We note the company handling Little Lord Fauntleroy suits, probably in the 1890s. We note a catalog with rompers from 1912. We note that the company was active in the 1950s and 60s. They varried an extensive line of fashionanle clothes. One fashion writer in 1957 noted that Kays Thompson, author of Eloise autographed at Best & Company in New York where various Eloise products were available. We know that Best & Company was a major U.S. depattment store chain, but have little information on the company at this time. A reader tells us, "There was a branch store in Scarsdale in the Lord & Taylor shopping center at least through part of the 60's. Every coat of my childhood was purchased there and I was born in 1954." Our reader goes on to describe the local department stores and where Best & Company fitted in to the trade. "Better than high end as L&T (the local vernacular) was/is a large store where one could browse "invisibly" if one was not quite comfortable. But, the Best & Co., in Scarsdale, was a small store where what you wore & bought , how you spoke & whether or not you were a regular was definitely noticed. L&T like Saks had 90 percent fine merchandise. Once in a while you'd find something some silly buyer snuck in that was trendy but had crooked seams or other imperfections. There was never anything trendy at Best & Co. Never anything that wasn't made perfectly with French seams everywhere! The only bargain there was the quality, nothing would ever go out of style as everything there was a classic & everything was made well enough to last forever. I purchased a Best & Co. vintage Eton suit for my then 3 yr old son to wear to a wedding . The garment must have been 50 y ears old. It was in perfect condition & survived my son dancing, crawling under tables , etc." [Linda K ]
We have not yet found a detailed history of Herrschners. It seems to be another retail store that began with a young immigrant plying a push cart. In this case it was Frederick Herrschner in Chicago. He sold sewing notions (late-19th cebtury). He seems to have developed a strong reputation with his clients. Chicago was the major city in the Midewest. According to the company, people who bought from Herrschner in Chicago wrote to him from various places in the Midwest where they moved seeking items that they had trouble finding in their new communities. This gave Frederick the idea that launched the company: he would develop a catalog and sell his merchandise to those who had no other outlet for the quality goods he provided. Herrschner hit on the idea of launching a catalog opoeration (1899). It was a more limited operation than the mail order giants like Sears and Wards. Herrschner did not offer a little of everything in a massive catalog. According to the company, they offered 'Art needlework and fancy wear for women and children'. Here the focus was on younger children. We do not have a complete understanding of the product line over time, but we see the company offering a extensive line of women's and children's clothing (1920s). Gradually they evolved into a craft line. Unlike Wards and Sears, the company is still in business since launching. Herrschner worked from various Chicago locations until passing away (1929). The businesss was sold, but remained in Chicago (until 1970). As there was no actual retail store, there was no need to reamin in Chicago with its high overhead costs. The company was moved to Stevens Point, Wisconsin where it continues to operate.
The National Cloak and Suit company is not a firm we know much about. All we know at this time is that it was located in New York. It appears to be a substantial company. We notice the company advertising in the February 1903 issue of the Delineator. We notice a catalog offering wommen's clothes ("My Lady's Wardrobe") for Spring-Summer 1904. The first catalog we notice offering a full range of clothing is from 1909, but there may have been earlier ones. The 1912 catalog contains a wide range of merchandise. any National 1912 garments are archived on the Ammerican 1912 catalog page. We do not know when the company was founded, but the use of "cloak" in the company name suggests an older company. We also do not know when company closed. We do note a 1920 catalog with very stylish women's clothes. As far as we know, it was purely a catalog company.
The German mail order house Quelle Versandhaus was established in 1927. Quelle, is a German mail order company located in in Fuerth, Bavaria (where Henry
Kissinger was born). I don't aware if Quelle was involved in export sales before World War II (1939-45). My guess it thar Quelle in the 1930s was primarily
focused on the domestic market. This changed after the War and a considerable interest was palced on export maketing as well as foreign sourcing. A HBC reader
reports that Quelle continues to be a very important mail order company. It also operates in France. A French reader reports that, "the articles sold in Germany are
practically the same found in France. One of the older manufacturer is located in Orl�an, France". There apparently were several different editions of theQuelle
catalog. A French reader, for example, tells us that the catalog for French Guiana (also used in Guadeloupe and Martinique) didn't have winter articles. Quelle still
exsits and is quite an important one. Quelle in 1995 opened what they claimed was the world's most modern mail order house in Leipzig. Quelle incorporated as
Quelle AG in 1997. Karstadt and Quelle merged in 1999 to form KarstadtQuelle AG.
La Redoute is an important Paris department store. The store was especially noted for its mail order catalog. One French reader has mentioned the "La Redoute"
catalog was well known throughout France. The clothing offered is a good indicator of styles that were widely worn in France and by French people in overseas
locations. The some styles were also widely worn in Belgium. Redoute was especially popular in the 1970s.
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