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News Release

Holiday Shopping in Simpler Times:
Library and Archives Canada’s Mail Order Catalogue Web Site

Tired of slogging through malls night after night trying to find the perfect gifts for your family and friends? Some of you may remember the days when you could order everything you needed from a mail order catalogue without ever leaving your kitchen table.

Library and Archives Canada takes you back to these days with the help of its new Web site Canadian Mail Order Catalogue. The site displays digitized pages and images of Library and Archives’ collection of English and French catalogues, including Eaton’s, Simpson’s, Christie Grant, Dupuis Frères, Goodwin’s, Nerlich and P.T. Legaré. The catalogues, which date from the 1880s to the 1970s, are available in a searchable database, where users can search for a particular item in all the catalogues at once, or limit their search to one specific catalogue.

Timothy Eaton produced the first mail order catalogue in 1884. Simpson's offered its first 10 years later, with many other retailers following suit. Shoppers could choose a wide variety of items from these catalogues, at affordable prices. In 1956, a fully-equipped cowboy suit could be purchased for Junior for only $2.95; a perfume and face powder gift set for Aunt Teresa would cost only 30 cents in 1936; $39.50 in 1945 could buy Sis a top-of-the-line record player, which played both 10- and 12-inch records; one could decorate the Christmas tree with a box of 12 dozens ornaments for $5.20 in 1940; and Dad could capture the children’s smiles on Christmas morning in 1926 with a vest-pocket camera for only $6.00.

Mail order catalogues provide a window on the daily lives of those who received them. The pages of Canadian Mail Order Catalogues show not only the evolution of fashion and children’s toys, but they also herald the arrival of many technological innovations: electricity, modern indoor plumbing, and labour-saving devices such as the washing machine.

Adults browsing the toy pages of these old catalogues will enjoy the nostalgia they experience as long-forgotten toys are recalled. Children will find it fascinating and informative to learn about children from the past and how they spent their time at play, as the pages reveal their interests and pastimes.

Visit Canadian Mail Order Catalogues at www.collectionscanada.ca/mailorder/ and remember a time when holiday shopping was made simple.

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Pauline M. Portelance
Media Relations
Library and Archives Canada