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Thoughts From The Corner

July 22, 2012

"thoughts from the corner"

Our regular guest blogger, Professor Serendip, joins us again, going for a mooch into an old trade catalogue. Here at ‘Experienced Tutors‘,  our home tutoring services do not look at such material – I don’t think the examination boards would approve! However, perhaps the social historians amongst you will find some of the Prof’s findings interesting.

"home tutoring"


Excerpts from

Books that have been unnecessarily culled by libraries

Books that have been serendipitously encountered

Books that need to be saved for browsers


Army and Navy Stores Limited. Price List. No. 104. 1939-40

[REPRINT by Trident Press International, no date]

This huge reprint of an illustrated catalogue of 1156 pages is more likely to be on the record than numerous original trade catalogues which have generally been regarded as ephemera and lost. One cannot imagine academic or national libraries storing those Argos or Tesco bumper catalogues. As far as one can tell only a library in Carbondale in the U.S. has systematically collected old trade catalogues.

This volume, which appeared just before WWII, is a ‘synchronic’ sample of the material culture of its day. We should bear in mind that the stores may have been targeting the officer class and the middle class. Doubtless there were more plebian catalogues available from firms supplying foodstuffs and domestic items as well as those advertising tools and building materials. Collectors are chary about advertising for old trade catalogues because they are nervous about many of them being likely to be about ‘pumps and drill bits’ and other hardware.

One thing is certain. Anyone seated with this catalogue in front of them is guaranteed to be carried away in a power browse, oblivious of all.

There are five pages devoted to Havana cigars. One might note that many objects which could be of cheap metals were also available in solid silver. Artificial materials such as Bakelite occur. Examples are electric shavers in white Bakelite and a choice of 5-Amp switches (polished brass 1/4 [6.5 pence], brown Bakelite 1/5 [7 pence], white Bakelite 1/6 [7.5 pence]). One might note here that cellophane is available in rolls of 5 yards 19 inches wide (approx. 4.5 metres x 50cm).

Terminologies for commodities are not widely different. Tunny fish which today we refer to as ‘tuna’ is called ‘Thon Fish’ in this catalogue.

Some trade names are the same as today – an example is ‘Dettol’ and another is ‘Anadin’. ‘Harpic’, ‘4711’, ‘Aga’ and ‘Monopoly’ were as familiar then as now. Among cameras there is a ‘Leica’. Of course ownership of brands may be radically different.

Men’s raincoats are worn long. Today most attire for men is short. There are two television sets illustrated, one costing 28 guineas (£29.40p), the other models by Cossor are priced at 48 and 51 guineas (£50.40p and £53.55p).

On page 1056 under the heading of ‘Moth Eradication Service’ we find the following rates: for an upright piano, £2.2.0 (£2.10p) and £4.4.0 (£4.20p) and for a grand piano £2.2.6 (£2.12.5p) and £5.5.0 (£5.25p).

The varieties of tea advertised are approximately as numerous as today, though with none of the fruit teas we have in our supermarkets. This catalogue lists teas from Nyasaland and Kenya. The most expensive teas are Earl Grey at 5/4 (26.5 pence) per pound, Lapsang Souchong 5/2 (26 pence) and finest Darjeeling 7/10 (39 pence).

"examination boards"

One thing that struck me was the Bakelite phone. I remember trying to obtain one of those in the 1980’s when producing a tour of J.B.Priestley’s ‘An Inspector Calls’. The phone is a crucial part of the plot, as all ‘A’ level English and ‘A’ Level Theatre Studies students will know. I note that you can now buy copies because retro is the new ‘in’ for approximately £45.

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