Mail Order Catalog: Sears Christmas Book, 1952

Many of us enjoy viewing vintage mail order catalogs as they serve a mirror of past times, desires, habits, customs, and mode of living... Some of them contain pages on cigarette lighters. A good example is the Sears Christmas Book from 1952. The full catalog (447 pages) can be viewed on Jasons website

Sears, officially named Sears Roebuck and Co., is an American chain of department stores, which was founded by Richard Warren Sears and Alvah Curtis Roebuck in the late 19th century. From its mail order beginnings, the company grew to become the largest retailer in the United States by the mid-20th century, and its catalogs became famous. Competition and changes in the demographics of its customer base hurt Sears following World War II, as the country's suburban areas thrived, hurting the company's inner-city strongholds. Eventually, Sears' catalogs were discontinued in lieu of more web-based alternatives. 

Sears Christmas Book 1952 Cover

Presented Ronson lighter models: Ronson Maximus, Ronson Vernon table butane lighter, Ronson Penciliter, Ronson Standard, New Ronson Windsor, Ronson Mastercase, Ronson Adonis, Ronson Whirlwind, Ronson Princess

Presented lighter models: Evans Standard, Evans Cloissone, Evans Cosmopolitan, Evans Combination Cigarette Case and Lighter, Peli-can Lite, Butalite Lighter, Parker Flaminaire, Zippo, Gilbert, Regens Liter, Beattie Jet Lighter and Minuet table lighters

Mail order catalog

Richard Sears knew that farmers often brought their crops to town, where they could be sold and shipped. Before the Sears catalog, farmers typically bought supplies from local general stores. Sears took advantage of this by publishing his catalog with clearly stated prices, so that consumers could know what he was selling and at what price, and order and obtain them conveniently. The catalog business grew quickly. The first Sears catalog was published in 1888. By 1894, the Sears catalog had grown to 322 pages, featuring sewing machines, bicycles, sporting goods, automobiles and a host of other new items.

Organizing the company so it could handle orders on an economical and efficient basis, Chicago clothing manufacturer Julius Rosenwald became a part-owner in 1895. Alvah Roebuck resigned soon after due to ill health, but the company retained his name. By the following year, dolls, smoking accessories, refrigerators, stoves and groceries had been added to the catalog.Sears, Roebuck and Co. soon developed a reputation for quality products and customer satisfaction. By 1895, the company was producing a 532-page catalog. Sales were greater than $400,000 in 1893 and more than $750,000 two years later.

In 1906 Sears opened its catalog plant and the Sears Merchandise Building Tower. Also, by that time, the Sears catalog had become known in the industry as "the Consumers' Bible". In 1933, Sears, Roebuck and Co. produced the first of its famous Christmas catalogs known as the "Sears Wishbook", a catalog featuring toys and gifts, separate from the annual Christmas Catalog. The catalog also entered the language, particularly of rural dwellers, as a euphemism for toilet paper. In the days of outhouses and no readily available toilet paper, the pages of the mass-mailed catalog were used as toilet paper.

Alvah Roebuck returned to the organization during the Great Depression, and worked as a spokesperson until his death in 1948. Part of the reason Roebuck left Sears in 1895 was due to the stress the business placed upon him, and he later took some delight in pointing out his longevity versus the much shorter life of Richard Sears. In the 1970s, the name "Roebuck" was dropped from the trade name of the stores, though not from the official corporate name.


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