When was the last time you read a catalogue cover to cover? Well, that’s exactly what I have been doing over the past several days. The catalogue I am reading is the Sears, Roebuck Home Builder’s Catalogue from 1910.
I purchased the catalogue from Dover Publications as a research book. What better way to picture and write about various settings than with images of the real thing? The catalogue contains no photographs, but is full of very detailed illustrations, many of which, at first glance, do look like photos.
Sears & Roebuck claims throughout the catalogue that its prices are much lower than “other concerns.” A concern is a word commonly used in the early 20th century to mean a business.
The retailer also was honest to a fault. One door, the catalogue says, is perfect for people who are not particular about appearance, several products the company does not recommend because of inferior quality, and one stairwell railing’s sales pitch is that it’s easy for housewives to dust.
The catalogue features testimonials throughout. These testimonials all have a similar tone, which leads me to believe they were possibly written by the retailer’s copywriters.
The Modern Home
Many of the products in the catalogue were being added to modern buildings, several of which are commonplace in homes today. Here are some examples:
- Double-strength glass
- Plate rails
- Medicine cabinets
- Built-in kitchen cabinets
- Furnaces that heat homes to 70 degrees in the winter
- Toilet seats with lids
- Toilets with china tanks (the rest were wooden)
- Sink handles (called cocks) marked hot and cold
- Fly screens for windows, because doctors say ventilation is hygienic but flies are not
Meanwhile, other features would appear downright odd to our eyes including:
- Sliding doors that are solid wood
- Lighting features that are combination of electric and gas
- Built-in sideboards
- Grilles and colonnades
- Summer fronts for fireplaces
- Brass and copper metal furnishings
- The plunger was called a “force pump with value”
- Products contained asbestos
- Blinds have the appearance of what we today call shutters
- Gutters were called eavestroughs (they still are called that today in Canada)
The Cost of Supplies
So how much did it cost to build and furnish a home in 1910? Here are some examples:
- A front door with a fancy, etched glass window: $8
- Solid oak fireplace mantel: $6.99
- Bathroom wall tile: 22.5 cents per square foot
- Furnaces: starting at $27.79
- A new bathroom including tub, closet (toilet) and lavatory (sink): $39.10
- Water heaters: starting at $4.20
- Cabinet and drawer pulls: starting at nine cents
- A garage: $83
- A nine-room ranch-style home plus labor: $1,960
Updated: 22 October 2020