Full disclosure: I love the Sears Catalog. For those of you too young to remember the catalog (or maybe even Sears the department store), it was this 1000+ page catalog of products lovingly nicknamed “the big book” that would arrive in the mail twice a year. When I was kid, I obsessed over every page — even the pages that had stuff I could care less about. I dog-eared pages. I circled items. I tore out pages and stuffed them under my grandma’s pillow as a not-so-subtle hint of future birthday and Christmas gifts.
Honestly, I feel bad for those of you too young to remember the Sears Catalog. Yeah, yeah, I know we have Amazon now and you can have anything you want delivered to your house in two days or less (including the guilt of doing business with a company with less-than-desirable corporate policies).
But for those of you who do remember the Sears Catalog, you understand what it was like to want something and have to wait to get it. It was called “expectation.” Like how you feel now when you post some Instagram pic of the latest burrito you ate and wait for the likes to pour in. Back in my day, we didn’t have Burrito Influencers. We had the Sears Catalog.
The origin of the Sears catalog begin in 1888, when Richard Sears first used a printed mailer to advertise watches and jewelry. People were starting to live all over this great country (not just in the cities). And those people needed to be able to buy stuff. Thus the “mail order merchandise” business was born.
The first Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog declared it the “Book of Bargains: A Money Saver for Everyone,” and the “Cheapest Supply House on Earth.” And who can refuse the lure of “cheap goods?” Nobody, that’s who. The catalog expanded from watches and jewelry, offering everything from sewing machines to musical instruments to saddles to baby carriages. Finally, you could buy your underwear and your gun in the same place. And if that’s not (sadly) America, I don’t know what is.
Sears marketed their catalog “as a mirror of our times, recording for future historians today’s desires, habits, customs, and mode of living.” Hashtag truth. It also recorded our dreams. Those in the Cult of the Sears Catalog remember what it was like flipping through page after page of glorious American consumerism. You could even buy a house!
But what I remember most about the catalog was its “sister book” that came out a few months before Christmas: the “Wish Book.” And what a wish book it was. Sears issued its first small Christmas catalog in 1933. But by 1968 it was a glorious 225 pages of toys and 380 pages of gifts for adults. Although sadly, you could no longer buy the house.
The Sears Wish Book that literally changed my life was from 1978.
Because when I turned to page 574, I saw this:
I am not exaggerating when I say it was mind-blowing. It was like seeing Jesus. I lived and breathed Star Wars from the age of 7. And to see all the toys displayed in full color for my little kid mind to imagine playing with, was heaven.
I had liked the Sears Catalog before this moment. But now I was a full-fledged, card-carrying member of the Christmas Wish Book Cult. And while the catalog ceased operations in 1993, you can still find some old versions on ebay.
So I invite all you Gleeksters to pony up a few bucks and get yourself a vintage Sears Catalog. Because the cult is always welcoming new members. Join us, won’t you?