Montgomery Ward Catalogue

Article posted by Vintage Blogger : Crimson Gardenia

Montgomery Ward Catalogue : circa 1919

Montgomery Ward – not a name familiar to most Australians, however, an important and readily recognised name in the American retail landscape.

So why a story on a US retailer for Vintage Shops Australia ? Because of this 4.5cm thick, 1000+ pages catalogue that landed on my doorstep.

4217 catalogue Crimson Gardenia

 Mystery catalogue arrival

…without a cover or the first ten pages… and unhelpfully, no dates on the headers or footers – or what’s left of the spine.So, it was time for some detective work.The wonderful worldwide web provided some facts about Montgomery Ward that helped fill in some blanks.

Montgomery Ward was started in 1872 by travelling salesman Aaron Montgomery Ward. He noticed that his rural customers wanted to buy the same things as their city counterparts, but had very limited access to them. His solution was to open a mail-order business.

That first catalogue was a single page with 163 items for sale. Eleven years later the catalogue had grown to 240 pages and 10,000 items. The mystery catalogue is over 1,000 pages… and no, I’m not counting the items.

The first few pages, well those that are still with the catalogue, are coats… glorious lower calf-length coats.

3969 coats Crimson Gardenia

Early 20th century coats © crimson gardenia

Early 20th century coats

The business had some ‘interesting’ moments during its time… including falling victim to the Great Chicago Fire and public burnings of the catalogue by opposition retailers. Trolls… they’ve been around forever not just on the internet…

They were also one of the first ever retailers to offer a money back guarantee. A board takeover in 1955 lead to changes in business laws, AND in 1939, one of their copywriters created the character of Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer for their Christmas campaign. Ground breaking stuff.

They embarked on an aggressive schedule of retail store openings in the late 1920s, resulting in  531 stores in 1929 and dropping of the catalogue business altogether in 1985. After a number of buyouts and bankruptcy filings, they eventually closed all 250 stores and let go 37,000 employees in 2001.

If you google the company, you will find an online retailer called ‘Montgomery Ward’, but this is not the same company. It was created when a catalogue company bought the intellectual property rights to the name in 2004, later selling the company to Swiss Colony in 2008, who continue to operate the business today.

Enough history! More photos!

Suits for the modern miss

3977 suits Crimson Gardenia

Suits for the modern miss © crimson gardenia

  Sailor-inspired dress

3982 sailor

Sailor-inspired dress © crimson gardenia

 Formal dresses and ordering ‘how to’ instructions

3984 formal

Formal dresses and ordering ‘how to’ instructions © crimson gardenia

No need for sizes – just send us your measurements

3987 measure

No need for sizes – just send us your measurements © crimson gardenia

 Maternity wear… really?? 

3989 maternity

Maternity wear… really? © crimson gardenia


3993 skirts

Skirts © crimson gardenia

 Charming chapeaus

3997 hats

Charming chapeaus © crimson gardenia

The only place to buy your hair

4002 hair

The only place to buy your hair © crimson gardenia

Of course with 1000+ pages, clothing was definitely not the only thing on the ‘Monkey Ward’ books (as they were sometimes known).

With everything from furniture to stoves, cutlery to horseshoes, books to roofing, pianos to curtains, Montgomery Ward sold almost everything… including grape and raisin deseeders! For rural customers, the arrival of the new catalogue must have seemed like Christmas…

Bandeau brassieres for over-corset wear

4149 bras

Bandeau brassieres for over-corset wear © crimson gardenia

 Mens neckwear – includes Windsor, Four In Hand and Bow ties

4160 ties

Mens neckwear – includes Windsor, Four In Hand and Bow ties
© crimson gardenia

The latest in boyswear – no surf tees or jeans here

4165 boys

The latest in boyswear – no surf tees or jeans here © crimson gardenia

 I put out a call to the wonderfully knowledgeable sewers at the  We Sew Retro website and their comments lead me to some very handy websites in order to place a date on the clothing in the catalogue.

Some thought the coats in particular had an early 1920s look, whilst others were convinced it was somewhere around the 1918-1920 era, judging by waistlines and hem lengths.

I was pretty happy with 1919 and was very pleased to recently discover a very small paragraph on the diamond rings page…

4168 rings

1919 confirmed © crimson gardenia

 1919 date confirmation

I realise how lucky I am to have this time capsule treasure in my possession… it’s kind of staggering to think that in just a few short years, it is going to be celebrating 100 years on earth.

Not bad for something meant to be kept for a season and then replaced.

I wonder how many of the items ordered from this catalogue are still in existence… Clothes packed into a forgotten trunk in an attic. Nails holding up a house. A horse feed bin hanging in a deserted barn.

looking back 400 years to 1519… now almost 500 years!

4215 wallpaper

© crimson gardenia

Written and sourced by Denise – Crimson Gardenia

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VINTAGE BLOGGER  : Denise from  Crimson Gardenia

Denise first discovered the vintage clothing world in the mid-1970s, but this was definitely not a case of love at first sight. Dragged into secondhand stores by her mother, her distaste for polyester and paisley made the visits a chore to be endured, rather than an exciting treasure hunt. Fast forward another couple of years though, and the real beauties of previous years started to catch her attention; so her true love affair with vintage began.

It wasn’t just clothing and shoes that got her attention though… movies, architecture, furniture, jewellery, bakelite, music and dancing… if it was from the 1920s to the late-1950s it was definitely up for inspection. Previous jobs that have made an appearance in Denise’s life include a stint at a weekly music newspaper in Sydney where she got to make full use of her dislike for incorrectly placed apostrophes, and also a long tenure at a record company where, as well as feeding her music addiction, she also met and worked with some lovely people – yes really!



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