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1897 Sears Roebuck Catalogue

Reviewer: J. E. Barnes from Bayridge, Brooklyn, New York

This 786 page reprint of the 1897 Sears, Roebuck & Co. is a priceless treasure for the right audience. Profusely illustrated, readers will marvel at the enormous range of goods then available, most of which are now obsolete or little used in American life. From the $4.90 'Cast Iron Pig Trough' to the $3.00 'Cleveland Ball Bearing Wringer,' from the $1.75 'Magic Lantern Slide Projector for Juveniles' to the $3.35 'Velocipedes' bicycle and the $2.00, mohair-covered 'Ear Trumpet,' readers will turn the pages in awe. Those interested in fashion and costuming will find the extensive pages on clothing remarkable. The average description for most items tallies at about 100 words, most of which is utterly superfluous but fun to read.

There are several very detailed sections of clothing, hats, and accessories for men and boys, numbering about 55 pages in total, which include $6.95 'Cashmere Suits,' and the $9.90 'Blue Flannel Grand Army Of The Republic Suits' for men, and for boys, 'Brownie Suits' 'Fancy Sailor Suits,' and 'Children's Kilt Suits.' There are 'U.S.A. Calvary Hats,' 'Buckskin Felt Sombreros,' and 'Men's Negligee Shirts,' which are described as 'the pick of the flock.' These sections are bolstered by idealized figures of mustached men strolling at seaside in striped suits and straw boaters, deep thinkers poised in velvet smoking jackets, and bashful blond lads in knee britches.

There are about an equal number of pages devoted to clothing, shoes, hats, and other accessories for women and girls, including 'Dr. Warner's Abdominal Corset' made with "extension steels, side lacings, and elastic gores on each side," girl's "reefer jackets," the $2.95 'Rich's Patent "Julie Marlowe" Lace Boot,' and 2 pages of outrageously festooned women's hats with names like 'the Leader,' 'the Susanne,' 'the Evangeline,' and 'the Bon Ton.' Browsers will notice that most of the illustrations of women look remarkably like the matronly Mary Astor in the 1941's 'Meet Me In St. Louis.'

Especially interesting, and now utterly comical, are the items listed under 'Drug Department,' which might have come from the Dr. Daisy Moses Backhills Medical Encyclopedia. Here are found 'Injection No. 7.,' which "is a reliable cure for all troubles of the urinary organs...no matter how severe the case,' an ad for 'Dr. Rose's Obesity Powders' which explains that "too much fat is a disease and a great annoyance to those afflicted...it produces fatty degeneration of the heart, and sudden death results," and the 'nutritive' 'Beef, Iron, and Wine' tonic, which, at $2.50 a gallon, was apparently very popular, "something no family should be without...used for extreme exhaustion caused by brain fatigue, eruptions, scrofula, and...depraved conditions of the blood."

There are 'vegetable cures' for 'female weakness,' 'fig laxatives,' 'Mexican Headache Cures' and 'Indian Cough Syrups,' 'microbe killers,' 'arsenic complexion wafers' which "are perfectly harmless" and produce "pellucid clearness of complexion." "Reliable Worm Syrup and Worm Cakes" cure "the disease so fatal to children" and comes in "convenient form for children to take, which they readily do, thinking it is candy." 'Dr. Chaise's Nerve And Brain Pills' is a cure for those with "overworked sexual excesses."

Special mention should be given to the Sears, Roebuck & Co.'s $0.75 brand 'Reliable Cure For the Opium And Morphia Habit,' which will "completely destroy that terrible craving for morphine...and free those victims from their terrible bondage." The 'Princess Bust Developer' and 'Princess Bust Cream Food' can be purchased separately, or together for $1.46. Prepared by "an eminent French chemist," the bust cream promises a "plump, full, rounded bosom," while the bust developer, which comes in both 4 and 5 inch sizes, looks like a toilet plunger and is perfect "if nature has not favored you." Another ad educates potential women buyers by explaining that "no worse affliction can befall a woman's face than to see a horrible growth of coarse hairs springing out like bristles," making her "disfiguring to behold." Oddly, 'Strangle Food' for cockroaches and 'Rat Killer-The Great Vermin Destroyer' are included among the products for the family.

Despite the exaggerated and presumably misleading claims, this volume is overwhelmingly wholesome in nature, and provides more than an educational glimpse into the lives, consumer habits, and advertising methods of Americans of the era. Throughout the book there are extended pages devoted to excerpts from grateful consumer letters with headings like "Proud of The Buggy," "Perfectly Satisfied With Revolver," "Everybody Says The Watch Is A Dandy," and "I Do Not Know A More Fair Or Honorable Firm." These pages are one of the book's disappointments, since the 'letters' are suspiciously similar in tone, phrasing, and praise.

A valuable piece of Americana, this catalogue also includes many other 'departments,' including 'Vehicle, Harness, and Saddlery,' 'Crockery And Glassware,' 'Watch And Jewelry,' 'Musical Goods,' 'Furniture,' 'Books And Stationary,' and 'Builder's Hardware And Material.'

1897 Sears, Roebuck Catalogue

Amazon Price: $15.37

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