Catalogues for Letter Writers

Starting in the late 19th century, a wide range of writing instruments could be ordered from three types of mail-order catalogues: specialized writing-instrument and stationery catalogues; catalogues published by jewellers, goldsmiths, or silversmiths; and mail-order catalogues that featured a variety of merchandise.

Catalogues of writing instruments were published by wholesalers for the retail market, but some were also made available to the general public. They were very elaborate (see J. C. Wilson & Co. Limited, 1908) and featured a large assortment of writing instruments - 21 models of pen nibs and 14 models of penholders. The United Typewriter Company Limited published a catalogue from 1913 to 1922 and it offered an even greater selection, including inkwells, bottles of ink, and a wide range of desk accessories. The first page of the catalogue had photographs of the company's salesrooms and customers were informed that the company's products were available in over fifteen stores in major Canadian cities, from Halifax to Victoria. The catalogues also had a whole assortment of writing paper. It should be noted that certain products made by particular companies, such as Easterbrook and Gillott pen nibs, were found in both specialized and general catalogues. The only difference was the price per unit. Prices were generally higher in specialized catalogues.

Jewellers' catalogues offered luxury writing instruments. The catalogue published in 1923 by Ryrie Bros. Limited, a Toronto company, featured products that were distinctive not only because of their design and the materials used, but also because of the way they were made. It included silver and gold fountain pens and pencils, which not everyone could afford. There was, however, a Waterman fountain pen at a price similar to those in other mail-order catalogues. Jewellers' catalogues also offered stationery, but in gift sets. Such publications were meant for a limited clientele, but the companies that produced them tried to reach a wider market by promoting the COD service introduced by the Post Office department on October 1, 1922. A full-page ad at the beginning of the Ryrie catalogue - "C.O.D. postal delivery, an added convenience to shopping by mail" - highlights the advantages of shopping by mail.

Department store catalogues sold writing instruments and a wide selection of other products, including household goods, tools, clothing, sporting goods, and prefabricated homes. In addition to promoting fashion and new products, they allowed new "consumers" to buy quality goods at reasonable prices without fluctuations in availability. One of the first Eaton's catalogues contained only a list of articles and their prices. Soon, however, catalogues increased in volume and were illustrated with detailed drawings. The categories of items offered also became increasingly varied. In catalogues such as Eaton's, Woodward's, Simpson's, Dupuis Frères, and Sears, Roebuck & Co., writing instruments were in the stationery section. All catalogues published between 1888 and 1940 seem to have had a section that featured stationery and writing accessories.
by Bianca Gendreau

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