The Most Unexpected Items People Used to Buy via Catalog

The Most Unexpected Items People Used to Buy via Catalog

By Larry Holzwarth

Before there was Amazon and Ebay and all of the plethora of online shopping sites, there was the catalog, from which virtually anything needed could be ordered. Sears Roebuck was built on catalog sales, as was Montgomery Ward. J. C. Penney operated catalog stores, from which merchandise could be ordered for delivery, after seeing the item or items in the store. Holiday catalogs were heavy and thick, from which children could easily build their lists of what they wanted from during the annual December spending spree. Outdoorsmen could order their gear from catalogs, gardeners their seeds for the next season. Virtually any product available in stores legally were ordered and shipped to the customer using the means available at the time – the railroads and the United States Post Office.

Virtually any item available for purchase by consumers in the United States was available through the Sears catalog, as well as competitors. Wikimedia

Among the seemingly countless mundane items of everyday life were some which would today be considered unusual. Online shoppers today know that any household item can be ordered for delivery online, but they might be surprised to learn that in the not so distant past it was possible to order an entire house from a catalog, delivered unassembled to the customer’s lot, where he or his contractor could erect it at leisure. There were several designs, in multiple sizes available from Sears, Wards, and other companies, and many still stand in communities across the United States. After purchasing and assembling the house, everything needed to furnish it was also available, as well as anything necessary to support the lifestyle of the proud new homeowner.

Here is a list of some of the more unusual items which were once available for purchase from catalogs in the United States, delivered to the purchaser’s door.

Products were marketed with text heavy entries in catalogs describing their use and the results to be obtained. Wikimedia

1. Customers could purchase a bust developer and cream from the Sears Catalog

The 1897 Sears catalog contained the usual fashion section for women, and for those who found the newer fashions which included in many cases a bustle and a lowered neckline formidable, it offered the means to, shall we say, grow into them. For those women who considered their bust line to be insufficient to the task of properly displaying the latest in women’s fashion, Sears (and other catalogs) offered a remedy, to be used in the privacy of their own home. The Princess Bust Developer and Bust Cream or Food was offered as a “new scientific help to nature”, which according to the advertisement in the Sears catalog, “will enlarge any lady’s bust from 2 to 3 inches”. Sears thoughtfully provided a free bottle of Fleur de Lis Bust Expander and Tissue builder with every order.

The Princess model resembled nothing so much as a standard toilet plunger, and its use can readily be imagined without the need for detailed description. Two different diameter sizes were offered for sale, though Sears recommended the smaller four inch diameter as creating “the most desirable size”. The developer was augmented by the Bust Cream or Food, which was intended to be massaged into the skin, “required for the starved skin and wasted tissues”. Sears claimed the formula was the result of the study of an eminent French chemist, and that, “Full Directions are Furnished and Success is Assured”. Together the Bust Cream or Food and the Princess Bust Developer (plus the free bottle of Fleur de Lis) were sold for the price of $1.46, including a money back guarantee for those left unsatisfied with the product.