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Collectors Corner: Rediscovering the Joy of Old Catalogs

Collectors Corner
Collectors Corner: Rediscovering the Joy of Old Catalogs

Ok, we have to admit that the first week of the Covid-19 quarantine we did little else but read, eat, watch TV, and run around trying to find toilet paper, Kleenex, and hand sanitizer. (Oh, and food and litter for the cats.)

The second week of our “vacation” we changed things up a bit by reading, eating, napping, watching TV, and running around trying to find toilet paper, Kleenex, and hand sanitizer. (And more food and litter for the cats: they’re very particular about both.)

As soon as we realized that the shutdown was not going to end anytime soon, we performed an intervention, and have now been engaged in cleaning out and rearranging every closet, cabinet, drawer, and bookshelf in the entire house.

All those items that we have decided to keep are being returned to their newly cleaned and dusted spaces, while anything cracked, stained, chipped, or broken has been heading to the landfill.

Items we no longer want, but that are still serviceable and in good condition are being boxed. We haven’t decided if we will host another yard sale or donate everything to a local charity, but we won’t have to make that decision until health restrictions are lifted and everything is up and running once again. (BTW, we had a huge yard sale just two years ago to dispose of items like these, so where in the world did all this stuff come from?)

A relatively small number of items – a print by a local photographer, a vintage glass ornament, a selection of 1950s and ‘60s Valentines – have been set aside after research revealed that they possessed more than a modicum of value in secondary markets – i.e. they are collectible. We will sell these via various sites.

During the whole process, we came across several expired department-store and furniture catalogs. We were tempted, at first, to just dispose of them, but we had written about mail-order catalogs in the past, and decided to give the stack a second look.

A perusal of online sales proved to us that the majority of the catalogs were indeed recycle-bin worthy, but a few were of more than casual interest to buyers, and we intend to keep a lookout for more of these in the “free” piles at yard and rummage sales, once they resume:

IKEA Catalogs

Founded in 1943, this Swedish company (now headquartered in the Netherlands) has become a favorite resource for home decorators around the world. They published their first catalog (catalogue if you’re British et al.) in 1951.

As might be expected, early editions of the catalog are considered collectible: a 1967 copy in Swedish, not in pristine condition, recently sold for $59 at an online auction, and a lot of three catalogs from 1985, 1986, and 1987 fetched $37.62. But we were surprised to find that the current 2020 edition has also been selling online for an average $5 (not including shipping). Of course, this may have something to do with the Covid-19 shutdown since the catalogs can normally be picked up from the stores for free, but IKEA also seems to have eliminated (temporarily?) the ability of customers to request free copies be sent via mail.

Of course, IKEA’s catalog can be viewed online, but there’s nothing like browsing through the actual item.

History of IKEA (IKEA website) – Illustrated timeline.

USA Philatelic Catalogs

You don’t have to be a philatelist to enjoy USA Philatelic. A quarterly publication, it describes, accompanied by full-color illustrations, all the current offerings of the United States Postal Service (USPS). If you collect stamps, you could use it as a checklist, so you don’t miss out on any items, but if your only goal is to avoid a trip to the local post office, you can order directly from the catalog using the attached order form, or go to the USPS website to view the digitized catalog and order online. Subscribing to the print version is free, though there is a small charge to have stamps, themselves, shipped to your home.

So, how much are old issues of USA Philatelic worth? It generally depends upon the subject matter on the cover. Many of the publications are sold in lots, averaging from about fifty cents to a dollar per individual issue, but desirable covers can sell for more. Examples include a 2013 issue featuring music-legend Johnny Cash ($5), a 2018 issue celebrating the centenary of Air Mail ($5.99), and a 2013 issue honoring civil-rights activist Rosa Parks ($6.50).

USA Philatelic (USPS Store) – Current issue in PDF format.

USA Philatelic (USPS registration page) – You can sign up here to receive USA Philatelic.

Hammacher Schlemmer Catalogs

Let us acknowledge from the beginning that many Hammacher Schlemmer catalogs have little or no collector value – and there have certainly been A LOT of catalogs in the company’s long history.

Founded in 1848 as a hardware store in New York City, Hammacher Schlemmer did not issue its first printed catalog until 1881, but it has outlasted retail giants like Sears and Montgomery Wards, earning its title as “America’s Longest Running Catalog”.

Initially devoted to hardware and tools – the company’s 1,112-page 1912 catalog was considered one of the most comprehensive in the country – Hammacher Schlemmer began introducing innovative consumer products, such as the pop-up toaster in 1930, the steam iron in 1948, and the microwave oven in 1968. The company’s continuing commitment to seek out the “unexpected” is the major reason today that so many look forward to receiving their catalogs. (We’ve always wanted our very own forty-foot long Tyrannosaurus skeleton, but it won’t fit in the living room.)

Regarding collector values, catalogs dating from the 19th to the mid-20th century are the most desirable, with final bids ranging from $20 to $50+ for the majority of specimens, though rarity, especially for early hardcover editions, can push prices to $150 or more. As for recent issues, their value is in the enjoyment they give us.

America’s Longest Running Catalog: Hammacher Schlemmer (Hagley.org) – An illustrated introduction to the history of the catalog.

Hammacher Schlemmer – The Unexpected Gifts (Hammacher website) – Official site.

Happy Hunting!

Michele Alice
Michele Alice
Michele Alice is EcommerceBytes Update Contributing Editor. Michele is a freelance writer in the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts. She collects books, science fiction memorabilia and more!