Mr Jalopy has posted a delightful rumination on the mail-order catalogs he's discovered on his yard-saling adventures, spurred by the publication of the fabulous-looking Catalog: The Illustrated History of Mail Order Shopping (a book I really want to lay hands on!). Astute Boing Boing readers may have noted just how much similarity our layouts bear to old Sears and Whole Earth catalogs.
While it is knee slappingly funny to gawk at the shag bathroom sets of the 1970's, the richest bounty lies in the early catalogs from a time that the Sears catalog really meant something. Before the interstate highway system and the internets tube system, the Sears catalog was a profoundly important and optimistic source. It was a catalog of empowerment. One day, you are Joe Nobody, without a fiddle or an egg for breakfast. Weeks pass and it must have seemed like a miracle when that new fiddle, kerosene-fired incubator and careful wrapped fertile eggs arrived in the mail. A community event, I suspect.
Having used inflation calculators, I have compared the 1932 prices of the everything from screen door hinges to chore jackets. Selvedge denim dungarees from North Carolina mills were the equivalent of $25, while bicycles were terribly expensive. Of course, the world changed. Labor, materials and container shipping have shifted business so radically, that it is a testament to Sears that the doors are still open.