Everything including the kitchen sink: the Trade Catalogue Collection at Manchester Metropolitan University

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 it’s 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 and the trade catalogues Jeremiah refers to were shelved amongst 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 trade catalogues from the collection are on display in the foyer of the  All Saints Library at Manchester Metropolitan University until 20th October.

If you have any questions about the collection please contact the Special Collections team at lib-spec-coll@mmu.ac.uk


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Kotha and Kantha

Currently on display in our ground floor Spotlight Gallery is a small exhibition of traditional Bangladeshi embroidery. It was produced last year by a group of ten women who participated in the project Kotha & Kantha: Bangladeshi Women’s Memoir held at Manchester Central Library and run by the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Education Trust and Centre (AIUC). Project Administrator Jo Manby explains more about the project and what it set out to achieve.
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FEAST – Setting the Table

Last year we were delighted to work with Laura Mansfield and Elisa Oliver from the Manchester School of Art on a project inspired by our Home Studies Collection. Laura and Elisa secured funding from the Arts Council to invite a group of academics, artists and writers to undertake a period of research into the Home Studies Collection in order to develop a series of contemporary responses to the historical material.

The group consisted of Catherine Bertola, Augusto Correiri, Bryce Evans, Beryl Pattern, Rachel Rich  and Susanna Worth. Their research was presented in a series of public discussions held here at Special Collections between April-July last year and is now available in a newly published book of essays. You can read a hard copy of the beautifully designed book in our Reading Room and it is also available to download here.

Weekly Home Hints

This week’s handy hint should guarantee a good night’s sleep! It’s taken from Home Hints for the Modern Housewife, published in London by Featherstone Press Ltd in the 1940’s.  This book is part of the Home Studies Collection which contains over 700 historical cookery and household management books from the past 300 years.

Will Mellor: Arts and Crafts book artist


A beautiful exhibition of books by a former School of Art student has opened today in our Spotlight Gallery on the ground floor of All Saints Library.

Will Mellor (1885-1966) was apprenticed as a bookbinder and studied at the Manchester School of Art between 1903 and 1909. He excelled in book design and illustration, calligraphy and fine bookbinding, winning many School awards, as well as national prizes and free scholarships. His work was noted and illustrated in the leading art and design magazines of the day.

Whilst still an apprentice, Mellor became Honorary Secretary of the Northern Art Workers Guild, the leading organisation promoting and supporting handicrafts in the north of England. After completing his apprenticeship in 1906 he described himself as a book finisher, working on his own account, yet he seems not to have worked full time as bookbinder. He undertook commercial advertising and design work, wrote articles for the Journal of Decorative Art, and was employed as an assistant/specialist teacher at the Manchester School of Art.

He found full time employment in 1924 as the Secretary of the National Federation of Master Painters and Decorators. He undertook advertising work for his employer, and was an occasional member of both the Red Rose Guild and the Design and Industries Association. In his will of 1958 he still described himself as a ‘decorative artist’.

The exhibition runs until 26 May 2017 and continues on the 3rd Floor of the library, in the Special Collections Reading Room. We would like to thank Barry Clark for curating this exhibition and also Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council for lending to the exhibition.

Weekly Home Hints

Avoid bruised fingers and expletives when you drive home that awkward nail with this week’s handy hint. It’s taken from Home Hints for the Modern Housewife,  published in London by Featherstone Press Ltd in the 1940s.  This book is part of our Home Studies Collection which contains over 700 historical cookery and household management books from the last 300 years. Remember these hints are from bygone times and not to be tried at home!