In his account of the history of the Manchester School of Art, A Hundred Years and More, David Jeremiah refers to the formation of a library which “was to become one of the country’s finest art and design libraries” and goes on to note its collection of trade catalogues for which it “has gained a national reputation”.
The art and design library now forms part of the wider All Saints Library at Manchester Metropolitan University. The trade catalogues Jeremiah refers to were shelved among other books held in reserve stock, all but forgotten as a collection of significance. A recent project carried out by members of the Special Collections team aimed to identify the catalogues and reinstate them as a distinct collection.
The catalogues we hold date from the mid nineteenth century by which time trade catalogues were firmly established as a way for manufacturers and retailers to promote a product, or a variety of products, with the specific aim of selling goods. As primary documents they have a wide and varied appeal and can be of use to design, cultural, architectural, economic, business and social historians.
Retail catalogues from famous London stores such as Harrods and Heal’s offer a wealth of pictorial information concerning everyday objects and take us into the Victorian, Edwardian and early twentieth century home revealing fashions in dress, furnishing and household objects. They also provide the cultural and economic historian with stock and distribution factors, both indicators of economic trends at a particular time. Catalogues from the post war period continued to be collected by the library and the collection holds examples from firms such as Next, Ikea and Habitat. Manufacturers’ catalogues are invaluable to the architectural historian and conservator for their precise visual and technical information but are also of use to museum curators and antique dealers for the identification and documentation of manufactured goods.
The catalogues vary not only in content but also in the quality of their production. Cheapness and speed of production must have been an important element in publishing the larger mail order catalogues but in cases where firms were producing goods for a design-conscious clientele, the design of their promotional catalogues is carefully considered. Methods of production also reflect the historical development of printing techniques ranging from copper plate engravings of the early nineteenth century through the many wood engraved and lithographed catalogues of the Victorian period to the mechanically produced catalogues at the turn of the century.
A small selection of catalogues are on display in our Spotlight Gallery on the ground floor of All Saints Library until 20 October 2017. If you have any questions about the collection please contact us