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Trade Catalogs in the Library of Congress

Published by manufacturers, trade literature is invaluable for tracing the development of industries, trades, and decorative objects. This guide focuses on print and online resources, and includes search strategies for locating additional material.

Introduction

International manufacturers’ trade catalogs and literature were produced beginning in the Eighteenth Century with the intention of advertising a specific type of trade or industry. Published by manufacturers, trade literature is invaluable for tracing the development of industries, trades, and decorative objects. This guide focuses on print and online resources, as well as search strategies for locating additional materials.

The focus of this guide is design, decorative arts, and industries related to the field and study of decorative arts, including furniture, home fixtures and structural components, glassware, pottery and ceramics, and metals such as silver and iron. The majority of entries are in the English language.

William England, photographer. The International Exhibition of 1862 Engraved Glass.... 1862. Stereograph Cards. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

Trade literature not only chronicles the expansion of consumption and commerce but also documents the development of design and historical preferences. Trade literature can be used to identify such information as date of design or manufacture, original price, materials used in production, and specifications. Due to size, frequency, and their ephemeral nature many libraries did not actively collect trade catalogs. Several libraries and institutions have filmed and digitized trade literature collections; references to these collections and resources are included in Trade Catalog Online Resources section of this guide.

Unlike many books and articles about antiques and collectibles, trade catalogs were most often produced by one manufacturer as a way to market new products and designs. The Library of Congress has a representative collection of trade catalogs dispersed throughout the General Collections; additional titles in a broad range of subject areas can be found in custodial collections including the Manuscript Division, Prints and Photographs Division and the Rare Book and Special Collections Division. Because trade literature is listed in the online and card catalogs under varying subject terms, researchers accessing trade catalogs must resort to several research strategies, as outlined the Search Strategies section of this guide. In each included source the links indicate the location of each item. Please consult a reference librarian for guidance in consulting these collections.