The Good Old Days: A History of American Morals and Manners as Seen through the Sears, Roebuck Catalogs 1905 to the Present


Some years ago, when I was employed by Sears, Roebuck & Company, I used to pass a few minutes occasionally by running aimlessly and dreamily through the collection of catalogs that record the Company's mail-order business from its beginning in 1886 to date. At first, I was merely amused as the buggies, stoves, organs, revolvers, clothes, patent medicines, and cosmetics of another time poured through my fingers in a dun stream already antique. And my amusement was composed largely of that complacency and condescension which a member of one generation feels as he looks back upon the manners, wearables, follies, and foibles of recent generations. Complacency and condescension fell away from me, however, when I suddenly realized that this was not some faraway and long-ago period that the catalog's pages were illuminating, but my time -- the only time in which I shall ever walk the earth, savor salt, and talk with my fellows; a time, therefore, infinitely more precious to me than all the centuries that have gone before, however broidered with gold they were or immanent with light.

Here, for example, were the buggies of a day already mistily remote, but a day in which I had lived. As a student at the University of Virginia in 1915, I had driven in just such a buggy as this, a young lady at my side, up the mountain to Mr. Thomas Jefferson's home. This is the shotgun with which I killed my first rabbit when I was a boy; these are the shoes I wore to Court School; that is the middy blouse worn by the golden girl who sat across the aisle. (Where is she now?) Here is a graphophone like the one we had in our home, with the blue horn flowering over the parlor and casting a sickly . . .


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