A Visit From Catalogs of Christmas Past

A few months ago, I found a stack of vintage catalogs in a drawer that were collected from back in the day, when Who’s Mailing What! was still a print newsletter.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year … when holiday catalogs begin to show up in my mailbox, and my desk at work.

I’ve loved catalogs since I was a kid, whether they were from Sears, Edmund Scientifics, or Banana Republic. Fortunately, today, neither print nor direct mail are dead. Far from it. So, at some point in the next few weeks I’ll be taking a look at what’s been mailed this year.

But a few months ago, I found a stack of vintage catalogs in a drawer that were collected from back in the day, when Who’s Mailing What! was still a print newsletter.

It got me in a seasonal mood. Or maybe just thinking about how much catalogs have changed over the years, and how much they’ve stayed the same.

Let’s go back in time to 1985. Ronald Reagan was the president, Back to the Future was one of the year’s top movies, and the World Wide Web was almost ten years away. And, appearing in homes across America were these holiday catalogs. Here are some thoughts I have about each of them.

Neiman Marcus
neimanm_01This luxury retailer’s Christmas catalog has had a reputation for outlandish gifts since 1960. A $2 million pair of his-and-her diamonds was one the highlights in the 1985 edition. Well, that and the section of gifts for $25 and under.

Calls to action are hard to find throughout the book. But then, relaxing and paging through it while filling out an order form was probably a good way to go.

This was a big book, measuring 9-1/2”x12” and 110 pages.

I also liked the cover, which featured a collage by artist and designer Ivan Chermayeff.

williamssonoma_02I don’t like to cook, but I get how chefs of all abilities have drooled over the cookware and foods this company sells. This catalog is easy to read, lots of black type on white backgrounds on most of its 76 pages. It only measures 5-1/2”x8-1/2”, though.

Two other things I like:

  • The copy really sells benefits of much of the merchandise. In some cases, it even offers some preparation and serving suggestions.
  • There’s also content … recipes sprinkled throughout the catalog.

Lands’ End
landsendxmas_01A lot of what’s in this retailer’s catalog would still fit with what it sells today, even after the recent overhauls. Sweaters, anything plaid, pea coats … some things never go out of style.

Something I had not seen before was a removable center insert. It’s a short charming Christmas story called “The Impossible Snowsuit of Christmas Past,” by George V. Higgins.

Altman & Co.
baltmans_01Altman’s was a small New York-based department store chain that went out of business in 1990. One of its stores was in suburban Philadelphia, where I grew up. There’s not much good to say about this catalog. It wasn’t well-organized or indexed. But I did like the fold-out pages to quickly find gifts for under certain dollar amounts. And, I may have owned some of the clothing pictured above.

I know thirty-one years is a long time to hold on to a catalog. But I’m curious … marketers, did you shop with catalogs growing up? Which ones were your favorites? Let’s talk about it in the comments below!