How did people use pre-Internet catalogs?

Discussion in 'The Barber Shop' started by pangaea, Aug 9, 2018.

    So from what I've heard (I'm too young to remember a world without everyone having high speed internet), companies would mail out paper catalogs and if you saw something you wanted in those books, you would somehow order it. So how did this work? Did you have to call them, giving them a credit card number/what product you want? Did you have to cut out something (like the listing) from the catalog and mail it in with some cash or a check? How did companies know who to send catalogs to?
  1. I went to the store and bought things.
  2. So long-distance purchasing from catalogs/mail/phone actually wasn't a super common occurrence in say 1975?
  3. In the case of Sears, one could fill out a form included with the catalog and mail it in or order at a special desk at the local store. You could have items shipped to your home or pick them up at the local store.

    I think there may have been an option to call the local store and place an order over the phone.

    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk Pro
  4. We just took them to the outhouse. :001_rolle
  5. you could call with a credit card # or use the included order form inside the catalog. Many companies still use this method. You write out which item you want, the i.d. #, what page it's on, what color/size , etc. and then you could add it all up yourself and send them a check or money order with the form.....or sometimes you could even C.O.D. cash on delivery, pay the mailman when he brings it to your door.

    in the 1980s the sears/jcpenney/macy's christmas catalogs were just about the coolest thing a kid could ever look thru. they were huuuuuuge, like over 500 pages and had a certain unique mass produced plasticky paper smell that was such a great smell of childhood. they weighed like 10 pounds, the mailmen must've hated delivering those things to every single house in the neighborhood.
  6. emwolf

    emwolf Contributor

    I used top mail order tons of stuff. I bought books and records from one company, toys and novelties from another. When I was little, I would save my lawn mowing money and then fill out the order form, give that and the money to my dad and he would mail it out for me. Once I got a checking account of my own, I'd write my own checks. Then I started buying pipes and tobacco mail order as well.

    My mother also catalog ordered extensively. I know many people who did and I thought it was rather a common thing. I also subscribed to comic books as a kid. I don't think that's done anymore. They would come once a month wrapped in a brown paper tube. My favorite was Marvel Team-up because 1. I loved Spider-Man, and 2. Most Team-ups were self contained and you didn't have to follow a large story arc.
  7. Truth! I still remember that smell.

    If the OP really wants his mind blown, he should Google "Columbia House records", where you could buy 12 CDs for a penny! My music collection exploded in college thanks to them.
  8. Legion

    Legion Moderator Emeritus

    You had to cut the corner off your comic book and post it to them.

    ant-farm.jpg Sea-monkeys advert 2.jpg raquel-welch-pillow.jpg
  9. The answer to the question is, for the most part, the mail was used. It was used to deliver the catalog and it was used to order the products. Magazines were ordered that way. You would find a coupon for a magazine in the newspaper, junk mail, or in another magazine and if it struck your ordered it.

    As a kid I usually subscribed to about 3 magazines at any one time. I remember subscribing to Mad Magazine, some Monster magazine, something called Quest, Popular Mechanics, Popular Photography, Modern Photography, Time, Newsweek, the Economist, Atlas World Press Review and probably some I'm forgetting.

    The Sears Catalog was a "wish list" as it included color pictures of just about everything. More people probably got an idea of what was available from that catalog and then bought it from the nearest store. Some stores even had a "catalog" window in the store to order items not actually in the store.

    For smaller catalogs, like photography or musical catalogs you just ordered through the mail for the most part or you could phone in I suppose...I never did.

    As was mentioned, Columbia Records wanted to you to join their record club and you got 12 CD's for a penny if you agreed to buy 5 more over the next 2 years at regular prices. That's how I have most of my CD's.

    They also had a lot of stuff in the ads in the back of magazines and sometimes there would be a product where they would send it to you for free to try for 30 days. If you didn't like it, you could just send it back with no obligation.

    As a kid, I ordered a 5 band short-wave radio knowing that I couldn't afford to buy it and I didn't have to. I would just ship it back after 30 days.

    Pre-internet, if you lived in a smaller city (didn't even have to be a small town) you either had to drive to the nearest "big" city to buy special things or you did it by catalog.

    I was into photography. For a decent camera or lens I had to order it. For darkroom supplies I could buy locally. Anything I was really looking forward to was purchased by mail. Small, specialty catalogs really were the bigger deal.

    Without catalogs you really didn't even know what existed. If a local shop owner didn't carry something, you didn't know about it. You have no/little choice as to the price either. Mail order was the only thing that kept local prices down although to a lesser degree than the internet does today.

    Before chain stores, as a kid, I couldn't afford anything. Once the chain stores come I have have a football and a tennis racket and a basketball. Before that, each item cost more and you had to really want and use something to justify the expense.

    The good old days weren't so good for anyone other than the local store owner and his family.
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2018
  10. Yea, the Sears Christmas catalog was worn out by Christmas, at least the toy section.
    We knew we’d hit the big time when we got a Sears Catalog Store in town. Just go there and order from the catalog, no forms to fill out, nothing to mail in, and your stuff was shipped to that store; wonder of wonders.
    Turns out they had a relatively short lifespan.
  11. I remember the lingerie section always got significant review...
  12. I remember finding one of those sears catalogs as a kid and asking my mom "isn't it expensive to send these? Why didn't they just post their things on eBay? Wouldn't that be easier?"
  13. Toothpick

    Toothpick Moderator

    Companies still mail out catalogs and you can still order from them. But mostly they are cheesy As Seen On TV type of catalogs. Or Fingerhut type catalogs where you pay 3x the actual retail price for an item because they give you credit and you pay monthly for it. Or generic clothing companies, which operate the same way.

    You can get catalogs from outdoor companies like Cabelas. Those are cool to look at.

    You either fill out an order form (Usally in the center of the catalog) and provide a credit card number or a check with the order when you mail it in. Or you call a toll free number and place the order.

    A lot of the catalogs are addressed “current resident”. Or you might see your name and then “or current resident”. So they don’t care who lives there.
  14. Mick

    Mick Contributor

    SWMBO was a book collector.

    She had a 10 page "wanted to buy" list printed from a dBase2 database on a daisy wheel printer.

    This was "mailed" to hundreds of antiquarian book dealers in the US and UK on a monthly basis.

    Back in the day of phones that had to be fastened to the wall by a wire, this was the only way to find things that were unusual..

  15. Sears and Wards were doing catalogs a hundred years ago. In the 80s Lands End, Eddie Bauer, LL Bean were big.

    As an urchin I liked looking at canoes and such in the Sears catalog. The bra section was interesting, also.

    Wish there was a shaving catalog.
  16. I remember our family collected green stamps an building up catalog books
  17. I still use catalogs. One can learn a heck of a lot from a well written one.

    Call, place order, give address, give credit-card number or send check.

    Lee Valley is pretty much tops, you can order a paper one (free) or use their online versions.

    See for yourself:

    Lee Valley Tools - Online Catalogs is to Canadian version, so prices seem higher, you can change the currency in the upper left corner
  18. Pre-internet, late 70s and 80s, I used to order rough inletted walnut gunstock blanks from a catalogue from Bishop Gunstocks ( now defunct) in Warsaw, Missouri, USA. I phoned in my order and gave them my visa number over the phone. The order desk guy got to recognize my Canadian accent. He always said, in a heavy southern drawl, "Y'all talk funny up there, boy." Then we'd both laugh our butts off.
    Simpler times.
  19. the current yearly B & H Photo catalogs are the modern adult equivalent to the old christmas toy catalogs, .....more pages of electronics, gadgets, and doodads than you can imagine

Share This Page