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Mail-order memories

Remembering the Sears catalog

Sears catalog
A Magnolia, a mail-order home advertised in the Sears catalog, still stands in Canton, OH. Image: Atlas Obscura

Sears Holding Corp.’s recent decision to close 150 department stores has prompted a wave of nostalgia for the retail giant’s storied catalog business.

Richard W. Sears introduced his company’s first print mailer, advertising watches and jewelry, in the 1880s.

As Sears’ selection of merchandise expanded, so did its catalogs.

Before long, customers could order appliances, clothing, shoes, tools and much more — even houses — through the mail.

The Wish Book, Sears’ holiday catalog, debuted in 1963 and almost immediately “staked a place beside the family Bible in rural American homes,” The New York Times noted this month.

Sears stopped publishing the Wish Book in 2011, but its legacy in American culture is secure, according to USA Today columnist Sean Rossman.

He recently wrote about how the catalogs paved the way for today’s online shopping phenomenon.

Rossman also paid tribute to the catalog’s variety of merchandise, including stoves that sold for less than $15 in 1900 and chinos that went for $3 a pair in 1957.

“The telephone-book sized anthology of anything you’d ever need or want stands either as a testament to the company’s business acumen or our never-ending desire to buy quickly and easily,” he wrote.

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