The Coveted Christmas Catalogue

Seasons Greetings to all! With the holidays approaching rapidly, many of us reminisce about the Christmas experiences from childhood. One of the common memories my co- workers and I share is waiting impatiently for the fabled Sears Wish Book to arrive in our mail boxes. For many of us, the arrival of Christmas catalogues was a much anticipated event in our households. The very name, Christmas catalogue, conjures up images of flipping excitedly through pages filled with shiny new toys destined for children’s wish lists. I for one, remember spending hours pouring over the catalogues, carefully folding the corners of the pages containing coveted items and circling of all the gifts I hoped Santa might bring me.

Children waiting for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, 24-Dec-1947 (City of Edmonton Archives EA-600-663b)

In the late 19th Century, mail order catalogues for larger department stores in urban centres, such as Montreal and Toronto, were the norm for purchasing goods in rural communities in Canada. In 1822, the first mail order catalog in Canada was introduced by Carsley’s department store in Montreal. The first Eaton’s Christmas catalogue, called “The Wishing Book” was produced in 1884. Timothy Eaton’s vision was for the book to be accessible to all and “go wherever the maple leaf grows, throughout the vast Dominion.” The department stores had vast mail-order departments dedicated to making sure mail-order customers received their purchases no matter how far the goods had to travel. By the 1950’s, the ability to purchase a variety of consumer goods through mail-order catalogues expanded rapidly. Many department stores marketed to the young and old, with catalogues specifically designed for the lucrative holiday season. The catalogues offered a variety of gift-giving options from fashions to merchandise and included a special section containing all manner of toys for under the Christmas tree. In 1953, Canadian department store giant Simpson’s was acquired by the American Sears. The business merger resulted in the first Simpsons-Sears catalogue to be published and would eventually become the most successful department store catalogue in the country.

If you would like to take a stroll down memory lane and revisit Christmas catalogues from your childhood, please visit Wishbookweb. This fabulous online resource of vintage Christmas catalogues has a current catalog page count of 25,617 pages. For Flash-enabled desktop browsers, users can enjoy full-featured navigation, including text-search features and special page-turning sound effects! Happy browsing!!

Eaton Catalogues:

Simpson-Sears Catalogues:

Snapshot of a few Wishbook Web catalogue resources available, accessed via: Wishbook Web – The Christmas Catalog Archive Project, Dec 4/18.
“A sincere wish for happiness at Christmas and throughout the New Year.” Christmas card, made in Canada date unknown.

Written By: Marsha Mickalyk, Archaeological Permits and Digital Information Coordinator & Pauline Bodevin, Regulatory Approvals Coordinator, Historic Resources Management Branch.

References

“The Story of the Mail-order Catalogue” http://www.virtualmuseum.ca/edu/ViewLoitCollection.do?method=preview&lang=EN&id=25258 retrieved Dec 06, 2018.

City of Edmonton Archives – https://archivesphotos.edmonton.ca

WishbookWeb – http://www.wishbookweb.com/

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