Zephyr Used & Rare Books has published a large catalogue of Such Stuff as Dreams Are Made Of. Catalogue of Trade Catalogues. Indeed, we see the dreams and aspirations of many generations of Americans during the past two centuries. As Zephyr explains, “Not even a majority of gardeners produced fruits as vibrant, flowers as lush, or consumers built homes as stately, or even drove cars preserved so stylishly. These are in effect wish fulfillment, all of those dreams distilled into paper and samples for us by legions of copywriters, photographers, commercial artists, and printers.” Much of what we see here was undoubtedly out of reach for many consumers, and others may have found that what they received didn't quite live up to the hype in these catalogues, but at least, for a time, they could dream. So, lets dream along with our forebears one more time.
It's easy to watch movies from home today. You can see them on TV, subscribe to movie channels, order new ones on pay-per-view, or now watch them on your computer or mobile device through a streaming service. Your grandparents didn't have it so easy. Still, they could watch films at home by ordering them from Castle Films. Here is a catalogue of what they had to offer, which came on 8mm or 16mm film, “silent & sound,” which hopefully didn't jam in your movie projector. They included “sports, travel, comedies, cartoons, westerns, musical, adventure, epic events.” You could see Woody Woodpecker, Abbott & Costello, Howdy Doody, Tom Mix and more. The year was 1953 and you could order their most popular newsreel film, the explosion of the Hidenburg, films by Boris Karloff and Hopalong Cassidy, the “Belles of the South Seas,” and – OMG – the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth. The others are long gone and yet almost 70 years later she is still the Queen. Castle Films lasted until the early 1980s when it was displaced by a newer more convenient competitor, the rental videotape stores, driven out of business themselves by TV movie rentals two decades later. Castle managed a much longer run. Item 170. Priced at $125.
Many people like to model their homes on classic styling. Modern homes are the most popular, but to many they tend to be rather sterile compared to the past. However, I'm not sure that too many people are looking for bathrooms circa 1910. Heck, indoor plumbing was a relatively new invention in 1910 and many people still had their bathrooms out back. Still, by 1910 it did have its own styling, and Union Sanitary Mfg. Co. of Noblesville, Indiana, offered a catalogue of bathroom fixtures you can examine. They had fixtures for both residential homes and businesses. Zephyr notes they had “enameled bathtubs, clawfoot bathtubs, portable bathtubs on rubber wheels, and even an 'Infants Bath' featuring waste fittings and enameled iron legs.” For larger uses they had porcelain sinks and enameled urinals. You can use this catalogue for ideas, but don't bother trying to find the company anymore. They are long gone. Item 34. $150.
Now for a story of quick failure. Ford introduced a new car model no one wanted for the model year 1958. Item 96 is a dealer's catalogue titled This is the Edsel, “Edsel” today being a synonym for loser. Zephyr says that it was developed using car shopper polling data ("they ignored most of the data"). It was designed to fit the niche between Mercury and Cadillac, the place occupied by Oldsmobile for General Motors. It led to the car's description, based on its unusual grille, as looking like an “Oldsmobile sucking a lemon.” Car buyers soon decided it just sucked, period, and was discontinued after the 1960 model year. At least, they are collectible today and have a certain caché that comes with being a monumental failure. $125.
While that last car was a failure, this next one was a savior. In 1954, automobile manufacturers Nash and Hudson combined. It was a time when the Big Three were taking increasing market share, while other car makers were trying to survive. The new company was known as American Motors Corp., and its marque brands Nash and Hudson. They were fast fading, but Nash had a compact car called the Nash Rambler. Company President, George Romney (Mitt's father) presided over the quickly declining sales of the large car brands and realized he had to change something in a hurry. So he removed those names from their compact car which became known in 1957 simply as “Rambler.” Item 72 is a dealer's brochure Presenting the New 1957 Rambler. The first major compact car, Rambler was a big success, so much so that the following year, American Motors discontinued both their Nash and Hudson brands. $75.
This is an unusual catalogue. It was produced by Dr. Bennington & Sommer, Institute of Anatomical Models in 1905. These anatomical models were intended for medical use, better to learn from models before operating directly on humans. Zephyr tells us, “This catalogue lists models of the brain, skull, nerves and musculature, tongue, nose, eye, trunk, urinary and digestive organs.” An obstetric series features a female and fetus, along with a collection of abnormal female pelvises. They also provided window mannequins with movable limbs and wax models of mouth diseases. These aren't everyday items, but at least there was someplace you could get them. Item 227. $495.