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by Frank Shortt
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Ask any person over the age of 60 and they will tell you the importance of
the merchandise catalog. These catalogs were an indispensable part of every family during the years following the War To End All Wars.
These catalogs came from Montgomery Wards, Sears Roebuck, Alden’s, Spiegel, and a host of other retail outlets.
The greatest use of the “wish book” was for reading material. Every child in every family in the Southeastern United States learned
to read by listening to an older sibling reading the wonderful descriptions of the amazing products inside. Second only to the Bible,
these books were read, reread and reread until every page was dog-eared and worn thin with handling. Was this the end of the tortured
There is a story told in Virginia about a coal miner who ordered several
rolls of toilet paper from Sears Roebuck. He simply addressed his request to the main store in Chicago telling them what he needed.
When a well-thinking employee finally received the order, he sent a letter to the coal miner and informed him that he had failed to
include a catalog number. The coal miner wrote back a letter which read, “if I had the catalog I wouldn’t be ordering the toilet paper”.
Yes, these mutilated, dog-eared specimens usually ended up in the outhouse. They were used as reading material as well as for “wiping
tissue”. The owner of the outhouse would simply nail the catalog to the wall and the person using the outhouse could tear off enough
reading material to last the length of his visit and then use the same reading material for the finishing touches. The users often
wished for the softer pulp catalogs instead of the slick copies. We have certainly come a “long way baby”.
The catalog played such an integral part in one family where a terrible misunderstanding occurred one day. The Christian father was
being visited by one of his near kin. As they sat on the porch discussing the latest Word from God the father turned to one of his
younger sons and said,
“Frankie, go into the house and fetch the good book”.
After a considerable space of time the boy comes out lugging the Montgomery
The poorer class in the coal mining communities could only “wish”
for the wonderful treats in the catalogs. These children were very inventive nonetheless. Each page of candies, fruit cakes, and other
delicious goodies were drooled upon and tasted by these deprived little underlings. Every toy was played with in the imagination of
every child that perused them. The trucks and cars were driven. The cap pistols were shot and placed carefully back on the pages to
be used again and again. They were often cut out and pasted on cardboard guns or wooden ones cut out of old dynamite boxes. The trucks
and cars were used likewise. The clothing was cut out by young would-be mothers to be pasted on cardboard paper dolls that were colored
by crayons which were used up until the artist could no longer hold them. The paste was made of corn starch.
Where, in this day of technological toys, could a child find such a diverse source of entertainment? What could provide more hours
of good, clean, enjoyable fun? It is the author’s contention that every family should order as many catalogs as possible, remove every
toy that their family possesses, for at least two weeks of the year, and allow their children to become inventors of their own entertainment.
This would allow the child to appreciate the finer things that are so easily obtained nowadays.