Trade literature serves a myriad of research and exploration purposes, demonstrating that it is worth keeping for scholarly, professional, and general use by life-long learners. Trade catalogs, advertising material, customer communications, and sales brochures have been known to inform industries ranging from engineering to theatrical productions, to the restoration of historic sites. Their value persists for decades after they promoted available products and services.
Modern trade catalogs made their first appearance in the middle of the 18th century, with furniture manufacturers being among the first to employ this new medium for marketing. Tens of thousands of catalogs were published over time, a majority in serial form. Updates were printed in varying frequency to offer a “new and improved” version of some products, while showcasing the addition of an expanded stock in the years that followed. The Industrial Revolution spurred the rise of companies manufacturing goods to keep factories running, including plumbing and electrical supply companies. Categories of goods represented in catalogs might include vehicles, appliances, machinery and hardware, decorative arts and architectural materials, as well as clothing and personal care products.
Why are they worth keeping? Trade catalogs might inform the design of movie and theater sets and props. They could aid in identifying parts necessary for keeping machinery running. They may simply provide inspiration for graphic design products, as in the case of the Sears catalog or real estate broadside included in this exhibit.