Telegram: "Everything", London
August 24, 2020 7:58 PM   Subscribe

The 1912 Harrods catalog has been scanned and proofread to be read online. It took thirteen years. SO much material history of the last peak of globalization before ours, within the age of fossil fuels but well before fossil fuels' dominance, and catering to Imperial structure.

Globalization: not just luxury goods but commodities. I noticed wheat could come from at least three continents.

Fuel: Harrods sold wood, several kinds of coal, paraffin heaters, petrol ditto, cars, bicycles, working horse and pony and donkey tack, electric or gas appliances, electric plant designed and installed, nightlights that were little threads of fire (longer ones for winter than summer), and a tablecloth with wires embedded in it that you jammed electric lights into wherever you wanted. (One of those survives in working order!)

Imperial: So much stuff from everywhere, and so many servants at home. And over and over it explains how Harrods will outfit anyone abroad who needs a social or military or exploratory uniform: telegraph Harrods for shoe buckles appropriate to your stations.

Most of these are illustrated with engravings, so if you're curious I really recommend a version with the pictures, but it can take a moment to download. (Hundreds of Mb.)

Gardening equipment, patent medicines, pus basins, all manner of things to drink, a circular slide rule that looks like a pocket watch, fancy chocolate boxes including some that seem to be literally made of cute dogs taxidermied to be hollow, home water distillers because a lot of people still needed them, very nice slop buckets ditto, hobby equipment for fretwork and pokerwork, instruments and sheet music, a book list which is still pretty Victorian (gently improving throughout), and so many ways to keep warm, whether at home or travelling. The Domes of Silence were a bit of a disappointment. The tubs lived up to the recent post.
posted by clew (35 comments total) 63 users marked this as a favorite
 
More than one type of cocaine, in case you’re feeling a bit down lately.
posted by aramaic at 8:16 PM on August 24, 2020 [7 favorites]


Surprised the author of the first piece is surprised by pineapples, as pineapples used to be a really big deal in England and were very much a status symbol of the wealthy.
posted by GuyZero at 8:24 PM on August 24, 2020 [4 favorites]


I once traded something on BUNZ for a facsimile of the 1897 Sears Roebuck catalogue. It's good reading. I like the dog powered engines. And all the medicines.
posted by stray at 8:29 PM on August 24, 2020 [1 favorite]


It's like a Victorian version of the AD&D 2nd Edition Arms and Equipment Guide (and I assume the latter was probably in some way based, at least indirectly, on the former)
posted by Saxon Kane at 9:04 PM on August 24, 2020 [8 favorites]


How many hours of work went into all those engravings?
posted by Harald74 at 10:41 PM on August 24, 2020


I love that link to the working electric illuminated tablecloth:

“The museum's file notes state that it was an "unusual novelty item" that would have been "lethal if liquid were spilt on it".“

:-D
posted by darkstar at 10:53 PM on August 24, 2020 [3 favorites]


I would dearly love to visit one of the big department stores like Harrods in their heyday. The haberdashery and fabric departments alone would reduce me to tears, followed by some really, really excessive shopping. The sheer amount of stuff is mind-boggling.

The few department stores that remain in London (Harrods, Liberty, Selfridges) are mere shadows of their originals, and mainly sell fashion nowadays, which is a bit dull. Hardly any fabrics, even in Liberty.

One aspect of the imperial connection is that all the big stores had an "Oriental" department, selling relatively inexpensive decorative items, mainly from India, Japan and North Africa. Liberty, which was founded to cater to the more arty end of the market, only got rid of theirs in the 90s.
posted by Fuchsoid at 2:43 AM on August 25, 2020 [2 favorites]


“Ah! at last!”
“No mistaking good soap when you see it—and smell it. Goodwin’s!—umph! Looks good—perfume delightful—and I’ll be bound the lather’s right, too. And 33 varieties of the one soap! Why haven’t we hit on Goodwin’s before, chopping and changing as we’ve been doing for years? Twelve tablets for 1/10—twelve? You don’t say so? Marvel how they do it at the price! But we won’t worry about that- let’s get a box or two in from Harrods, and try the perfumes one by one!"


1912, a time when a man could enthuse about the perfume and lather of soap. When did we lose that?
posted by antiwiggle at 3:17 AM on August 25, 2020 [4 favorites]


fun to not read it then guess what's not in it.


farm equipment.
tents with pinnacles.
posted by clavdivs at 3:24 AM on August 25, 2020


Also Ladies' Trout Fly Rods.

F T 6190. Split Cane Ladies’ Fly Rod, cork grip, 2 tops, revolving butt and end rings, 3 joint, 9 ft. and 10 ft. 45/0

I'm not sure what distinguishes a ladies' fly rod from a gentlemens' fly rod.

I really should go back to doing work now, 1912 Harrods can wait.
posted by antiwiggle at 3:26 AM on August 25, 2020


Especially for Americans and returning colonials:

A SOCIAL PILOT.

The latest scheme devised by Harrods to pilot their patrons through the quicksand of social existence will certainly come as a boon and a blessing to a great many people who realise the endless perplexities, anxieties, and those thousand and one worrying details which are attendant upon the honour of presentation at their Majesties’ Court.

Indeed, more than half the pleasure of such a command is marred for a great many people owing to the trouble of getting ready. This is especially true in the case of first presentations or the attendance of Americans or Colonials, who, returning home after many years’ sojourn abroad, are utterly perplexed as to all those unwritten laws that hedge about the ceremony of making their bow to their Sovereign. For explicit and precise as the rules and regulations issued by the Lord Chamberlain are, they by no means relieve the novice of all trouble, responsibility, and care in the matter.


Now I will really, really get back to work.
posted by antiwiggle at 3:36 AM on August 25, 2020 [2 favorites]


I'm thinking that the electrical manufacturer Ferranti mentioned in the blog post is this Ferranti, a major UK electrical/electronics manufacturer, which has its own interesting history, including early UK computers, before it collapsed in the 1990s.
posted by carter at 3:51 AM on August 25, 2020 [1 favorite]


And, very cool find! Thank you!
posted by carter at 3:51 AM on August 25, 2020


I'm not sure what distinguishes a ladies' fly rod from a gentlemens' fly rod.

It's packaged in pink and twice the price?
posted by Paul Slade at 4:41 AM on August 25, 2020 [6 favorites]




Many thanks for posting this, clew - I've been fascinated looking though it: Electro-Plated Crumb Scoops (p. 163); Toilet Rolls (in the Stationery dept.! - p. 295); Moustache Trainers (p. 385); Ladies' and Youths' Guns (p. 458); Driving Goggles (p. 569); Gramophones (p. 829), etc., etc.

The full catalogue is also available at archive.org, should you want to see the exact page-layout, or download a PDF version, etc.
posted by misteraitch at 5:55 AM on August 25, 2020 [3 favorites]


....its own interesting history, including early UK computers, before it collapsed in the 1990s.

Their computer industry failed, of course, because they couldn't get them to leak oil
posted by thelonius at 6:00 AM on August 25, 2020 [7 favorites]


Saxon Kane: You mean The Aurora's Whole Realms Catalog? Specifically designed like those old examples.
posted by cobaltnine at 6:28 AM on August 25, 2020 [1 favorite]


I note they will also line leopard skins for you, (p. 450), and for an extra charge will half-raise the heads and insert eyes into them. Truly, a store that does it all.
posted by Hypatia at 7:48 AM on August 25, 2020 [2 favorites]


1912, a time when a man could enthuse about the perfume and lather of soap. When did we lose that?
Antiwiggle you need to explore the world of shaving soaps. Much enthusiasm about lather and scent. There are tons of small companies out there making some great soaps.
posted by misterpatrick at 8:42 AM on August 25, 2020 [1 favorite]


That reminds me of old catalogues of a local department store during pre-independence era that i had the fortune to look thru in one of my old jobs (it's Singapore's Cold Storage, if anyone is curious). They offered a glimpse of imperial life in one of the colonies, so while it's not as luxe or extensive as the Harrods one, they still offered such important services like literally cold storage for your furs while you're here in the tropics (of course!), and a helpful section for your maid too, except of course here it would be a Chinese lady we'd call amah, who'd probably speak Hokkien, so it was bilingual with recipes for Sunday roasts etc.
posted by cendawanita at 8:49 AM on August 25, 2020 [7 favorites]


> Their computer industry failed, of course, because they couldn't get them to leak oil


Confirming that this is the canonical explanation for why the pioneers of the digital electronic computer are not industry leaders.
posted by Aardvark Cheeselog at 9:18 AM on August 25, 2020


I beg also to call attention to page 1237 -

SPERM CANDLES OF SPECIAL MAKE.

These candles are expressly manufactured for Hot Climates, Ball Rooms, etc., and can only be obtained at HARRODS.

Sizes 12’s, 8’s, 6’s, 4’s, 3’s and 2’s.
Special Sperm—Plain Ends ... per doz. lb. 8/6
,,,,Self-fitting Ends ,, ,, 9/0
Hard Sperm—Plain Ends ... ,, ,, 8/6
,,,,Self-fitting Ends ,, ,, 9/0
Planet Sperm—Plain Ends ... ,, ,, 7/0
*Royal Transparent Sperm
Plain Ends, per doz. lb. 9/6
Self-fitting Ends, ,, ,, 10/0
* These Candles are specially manufactured
for shade holders and hot climates.
Planet Sperm—
Self-fitting Ends, per doz. lb. 7/6

KNIGHTSBRIDGE SPERM
TRANSPARENT CANDLES
SELF-FITTING ENDS
MANUFACTURED FOR
HARRODS Ltd.
87 to 105 BROMPTON ROAD. S.W.
Knightsbridge Sperm—Plain Ends ... ... ... per doz. lb. 8/0
,,,,Self-fitting Ends ,, ,, 8/6
*,,Chamber Self-fitting Ends ... ... ,, ,, 8/3
,,Paraffin Plain Ends ... ... ... ,, ,, 6/9
*,,Wax, Plain Ends ... ... ... ... ,, ,, 4/8
*Household Candles—Cheap Sperm, Plain Ends ... ,, ,, 6/6
,,,,*Cheap Wax ,, ,, 3/4
,,,,London Wax ... ... ... ,, ,, 2/11
*Carriage Candles, 4’s, 6’s, and 8’s, Sperm Moons,
best quality per 3 lb. pkt. 1/10½
posted by Hypatia at 9:39 AM on August 25, 2020 [6 favorites]


And checkout the digitized version of Chicago's Montgomery Ward illustrated price list no. 30 from fall and winter, 1881.
posted by mfoight at 9:51 AM on August 25, 2020 [1 favorite]


I'm thinking that the electrical manufacturer Ferranti mentioned in the blog post is this Ferranti, which has its own interesting history,

The downfall of Ferranti is a tale of intrigue which could make a FPP on its own, ex-CIA agents selling arms to South Africa during apartheid, those arms being re-sold to China and then a daisy chain circle of fake invoices resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars vanishing into thin air.

I don't understand all the details (it is a huge rabbit hole) but Ferranti/ISC closed down at almost the exact same time as apartheid ended and I suspect that is not a coincidence.
posted by Lanark at 11:34 AM on August 25, 2020 [5 favorites]


cobaltnine: yes that too :)

“The museum's file notes state that it was an "unusual novelty item" that would have been "lethal if liquid were spilt on it".“

So... a Victorian Gremlin?
posted by Saxon Kane at 11:58 AM on August 25, 2020 [2 favorites]


I think my love for old catalogues came from a ninth-grade social studies teacher, who gave us a copy of a Sears catalogue from around this time, a budget, and told us to plan a trip around the world. We had to make sure we purchased appropriate toiletries, clothing for different weather, and could economize or splash out depending on our tastes. It was so much fun.

I have scans from a 1935 Sears catalogue and some random scans from a 1963 and 1966 Spiegel catalogue if anyone wants to keep browsing through the years.
posted by PussKillian at 1:11 PM on August 25, 2020 [3 favorites]


Thank you for this! It is right up my alley, and I have downloaded it post-haste.

I also seriously appreciate all of the hard work and time that people put into it. It's so much better than the 'ocr it and forget it' style I've unfortunately run into, where someone just zips a text thru a computer and flings it online, and all I get out of a much-anticipated title is random garbage that looks like no human has ever run their eyes over it.
posted by theatro at 1:11 PM on August 25, 2020 [4 favorites]


Dirty jokes aside, Hypatia , I wish I had put spermaceti in the Fuel paragraph. Whoa, and also woe.
posted by clew at 2:09 PM on August 25, 2020


Why is there not a mystery series based around the Harrod's Social Pilots for hire "through the quicksand of social existence" that antiwiggle points out? At least a Miss Fisher novel?

I was noodling around the Ferranti inventions and story and came across Valerie Hunter Gordon (née Valerie Ziani de Ferranti) who invented disposable nappies and sanitary towels, made a packet off them, designed a large house that is a startlingly pleasant combination of 1950 and 1880, and apparently lived there happily for the rest of a long life. (I was looking for a surviving example of a Ferranti Electric Fire, which looks like a Stargate and was apparently hot enough to cook in front of.)
posted by clew at 5:14 PM on August 25, 2020 [4 favorites]


So cool! I will share this with all my historical archaeology friends. Would be fun to compare items in this catalog to the 1912 Sears catalogue. What was the fashionable man or woman wearing on either side of the world?
posted by EllaEm at 7:08 PM on August 25, 2020


It occurred to me to wonder, given the catalogue's date, how many of these deluxe items might have gone to the bottom of the Atlantic with RMS Titanic. Lifebelts, Lifebuoys: p. 472.
posted by misteraitch at 1:12 AM on August 26, 2020


Cool! The Sears catalog is a good corollary to Harrod's, but as a kid I really enjoyed a couple random copies of The Whole Earth Catalog, which had a similar scope (but pretty much diametrically opposed politics).
posted by thandal at 5:42 AM on August 26, 2020 [2 favorites]


How many hours of work went into all those engravings?

Maybe some of these engravings went into Max Ernst's crazy collages.

Also in related, Radio Shack Catalogs.
posted by ovvl at 4:05 PM on August 26, 2020


SPERM CANDLES OF SPECIAL MAKE.

The spermaceti candle holds even greater historical importance than simply a new artificial lighting source. Demand for spermaceti dramatically impacted the American East Coast whaling industry, as spermaceti can only be found in one species of whale: the sperm whale. The perils associated with retrieving spermaceti from sperm whales, as well as the lengthy production process, kept the cost of the spermaceti candle high and allowed only the richest of Americans to fully enjoy the benefits of this type of candle.
While the spermaceti candle may at first appear to be a simple innovation, its complex past reveals that is has had a significant impact on United States’ history
...
The process by which spermaceti was extracted from the head of the sperm whale was both dangerous and arduous. After a whale was killed, seamen tied its head and tail to the ship. After the retrieval of the blubber and other usable body parts of the whale, the head was severed, allowing the body to sink to the ocean floor. A hole drilled in the side of the whale’s head provided access to the spermaceti, which seamen then removed with buckets. The size of the whale’s head allowed for men to crawl inside the skull for easier access to the prized matter. This process of spermaceti removal continued ceaselessly until the last usable part was removed, sometimes lasting several days. It was far from hygienic and “when they eventually finished, both the men and their ship would be caked with grease, blood and soot.” source (PDF)
posted by Lanark at 2:41 AM on August 27, 2020 [2 favorites]


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