Got Old Catalogs?
Vintage catalogs are one of my favorite things to find at estate sales but they don’t turn up all that often. Think about it. What are the odds that you would even have an old catalog from five years ago sitting around your house in mint condition?
I think they are one of those collectibles that were treated as ephemera and were often thrown away. What is the average life expectancy of a catalog in your home? In my house, they get purged any time my wife reaches her “clutter threshold”. When that happens, it’s a good idea to immediately move anything that you want to hang on to. I doubt that there are a lot people who hang on to today’s catalogs as potential collectibles. That is the nature of ephemera though. People don’t see much value in it until many years later.
As an example, I know that there are a lot of people out there who collect the old Sears Christmas Wish Book catalogs. Personally, I don’t think one ever survived my “wish list” building without having many, many items circled in ink when I was a kid. I can’t even imagine anything like a mint copy getting by me as I prepared for the holidays. The older generation always told us that the old Sears catalog is what they used to stock the outhouse with paper back in the day. Really. I don’t think I could make that up. That is yet another strike against the odds of a vintage Sears catalog surviving for very long in good shape.
On eBay, old catalogs are quite a popular find. As I mentioned, the old Sears Roebuck catalogs are snapped up very quickly, but they are just the beginning. Auction catalogs are incredibly popular. I picked up a box full of Sotheby’s literature once and couldn’t get it listed fast enough. Once people saw that I had three or four of them listed one week, the emails started pouring in asking me if I had specific publications related to certain auctions. Unfortunately, that just isn’t how this end of the business works. You dig and dig and go all over and then you buy up what you manage to find.
Vintage Specialty Catalogs
Many collectors search for old Sears catalogs online, but other specialty catalogs also do quite well. These sometimes fall into the “who ever would have thought?” category. A General Electric parts catalog recently went for close to $350. I knew that there was a solid core of collectors for General Electric though. One woman asked me to notify her any time I found ANYTHING GE. She said she would buy it on the spot. Sight unseen. I’ve also seen this confirmed when I did research for some antique fans I purchased. I included a video in that post that features a fan collector who built his collection exclusively around vintage General Electric fans.
Car parts, fashion prints, catalogs referring to products that contain asbestos, TVs and radios, vintage seed catalogs…they all go. It makes sense though, when you think about it. It isn’t just that people love to collect the old catalogs themselves. People who collect other interesting items sometimes want an associated vintage catalog as either a nice addition to their collection, or as a source for figuring out what they still need to complete their collections. A collector of old bikes might want a vintage Schwinn catalog. Many people love to collect antique tools. A vintage hardware catalog might make them aware of old items they did not even know existed! Vintage toy catalogs could be an amazing find for someone who is trying to build a collection of vintage or antique toys. The list goes on, and it can be applied to almost any area of collecting. Catalogs make great guides as well as wonderful stand alone collectible items.
Vintage Catalogs for Sale
Some people collect these old catalogs to keep as display pieces that go with a larger collection following the same theme. Others collect the catalogs as part of a vintage catalog collection. There are also those creative types who love the old artwork and they will turn one vintage catalog into several artistic works with a little bit of cutting and pasting. I have a friend who does this with scrapbooks. Her projects always look great.
Whatever the reason may be, vintage catalogs are a big time seller on eBay. If you are a collector, I hope you find something you like in the listings above (or their following pages underneath). If you are a potential eBay seller, your tip for the day is to grab those old catalogs when you see them in decent shape. They are tough to come by outside of eBay.
This is a great video I came across on YouTube showing off an old catalog…
A Note About Vintage Sears Catalogs
Without a doubt, these old wish books and seasonal catalogs are a hot collectible item. They’re a lot of fun to look at because it’s like taking a peek back at the culture of another era. The fashions, interests, and popular items of the day are all bundled into one beautifully illustrated book. However… If you are considering buying a vintage Sears catalog, be sure that you are buying an original (if that is what you want), and not a reproduction. Yes, these old catalogs are so popular that there have actually been reproductions made for resale. Most sellers will be honest about the age of what they are selling, but buyer beware is always a good guideline to follow. Sellers might not even realize that they are selling a reproduction if they found the item at a garage sale. I have to admit that I scooped one of these up and paid for it at a garage sale a while ago (along with several other items) without ever looking closely enough to notice that is was a reproduction. At least it only cost me a few bucks. If you ever have a question about something you are considering purchasing, always take a minute to ask a few questions before making a purchase.