Trade Catalogs

Guide to Architectural Trade Catalog Collections

Building Technology Heritage Library 
The BTHL was one of the first collections of period trade catalogs to use the platform of the Internet Archive. We are not the only one using this great access portal to digital archives. Several other cultural institutions and private collectors have since set up trade catalog archives. Some of these are directly related to the built environment and include topics that would be of interest to the wide range of BTHL users. Because these topics have their own homepages on the Internet Archive, we are no longer adding these materials to the BTHL, unless they are unique materials that no one else has. We hope that other institutions take up the task of digitizing trade literature, which usually does not exist in the major library collections that are being digitized.

Architectural Trade Catalogs Links
            How to find trade catalogs in the Library of Congress
            National Museum of American History Library
            Sears Archive – Homes    

Other Trade Catalog Collections on the Internet Archive
            Internet Archive "catalogs collection" homepage

The Internet archive has a section for catalogs from a wide variety of sources.  The Building Technology Heritage Library is the first item listed within this interface. 

Seed Catalogs
         Henry G. Gilbert Nursery and Seed Trade Catalog Collection      

Masonry Tools
         Mark Stansbury, Archivist

Furniture Catalogs
         Winterthur Digital Collections


Architectural Trade Catalog Collections at Libraries and Archives

Angelo State University
Gerron S. Hite Collection, West Texas Collection, Angelo State University, San Angelo, TX
In this collection there are several photographs from the Tom Green County area along with a document from a local business. Photographs include the Water Valley School House (1903-1904) and the Carlsbad Inn (1908). There is also a very large photograph of San Angelo from the view of the Oaks Street Bridge. Also, information on adobe construction.  Boxes 6-18 contain catalogs, pictures of fences, letters, etc. on U.S. companies that manufacture fences and supplies dating back to late 1890s.  Most of the materials from this collection were added to the BTHL in 2015.

About the Collection

Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library at Columbia University
The Avery collection contains more than 10,000 catalogs in subject areas related to architecture and decorative arts. The collection is fully cataloged and can be searched online. The materials are contained in the rare book room of the Avery Library and do not circulate. The majority of the catalogs were converted to microfiche, which is available from several libraries in the U.S. There is a finding aid to the microfiche collection that is maintained at the Avery reference desk. The Avery Library is cooperating with APT to add their materials to the BTHL. By 2020, approximately 1,300 documents from the Avery Library’s collection will be on the BTHL.

About the Collection
Digital collection:

Canadian Centre for Architecture
The CCA library contains approximately 5,600 trade catalogues documenting building technology and construction methods from the late eighteenth century to the present. Coverage is broad and includes such categories as concrete and lumber, metalwork and woodwork, flooring, heating and insulation, plumbing and electricity, and windows and roofing. Approximately 80 percent of the catalogs are from U.S. companies. The collection is fully cataloged and can be searched on-line. The collection does not circulate. The CCA was the first institutional library to provide access to their documents for the BTHL. Approximately 3,400 documents from the CCA collection were added from 2010 to 2013.

About the Collection

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh
The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has between 25,000 and 30,000 trade catalogs in all subject areas. Architectural and building topics will be represented in multiple categories. The catalogs are shelved alphabetically by company name in the main library building. They are housed in closed stacks, so you will need the assistance of the Reference Services staff on the second floor of the library. There is no separate category for building construction or architectural topics. There’s exactly one index card that says “Architects’ Materials” which directs the user to “Drawing Materials.” There are multiple headings for things like andirons, chimneys, clocks, door hangers, door knobs, doors, household appliances, lamps, etc. The subject nomenclature and language is reasonably descriptive for building research but is not consistent with contemporary categories. There is currently no online or automated finding aid; the collection is indexed on two sets of cards. One set is arranged alphabetically by company name, and the other by product description. The items do no circulate but may be photocopied if condition permits.

About the Collection

Chicago Public Library, Harold Washington
The Chicago Public Library trade catalog collection contains approximately 300 catalogs from Chicago-area companies. Architectural and related products represent approximately one quarter of the collection. There are a number of large general catalogs such as Sears, Roebuck & Co., and Montgomery Ward & Co., which contain many architectural and decorative arts materials. The collection is not searchable through the library’s online catalog.

About the Collection

Cleveland Public Library
The Cleveland Public Library Special Collections Department has an extensive architectural trade catalog collection. There are over 1000 catalogs from the late 19th to the early 20th century. From the 1860s thru the 1950s these catalogs cover a range of topics from a variety of manufacturers. Sherwin Williams, du Pont, Pittsburgh Paints, Benjamin Moore, and others show off their latest products from those golden years. There are catalogs of paint and wallpaper samples along with the latest in refrigeration, radiators, and stoves from the 1870s on. Since most of these are "booklet" formats, we categorize the collection.

The collection does not circulate but you can request scans through Interlibrary Loan or by sending an email request to Special Collections.

About the Collection

Hagley Museum and Library
The Hagley Museum and Library has a collection of 25,000 trade catalogs as a resource for understanding America's commercial, technological, and industrial development. The collection has a great amount of materials in the areas of architecture and decorative arts that are useful for historic restorations and artifact identification. The collection is fully cataloged and can be searched online. A microfiche version of the collection was created in 1989. The items do not circulate.

About the Collection
Digital Archive Trade catalogs and pamphlets

Library of Congress
The Library of Congress has a representative collection of trade catalogs that are dispersed throughout the general collections. The catalogs are listed in the card catalog under many different headings, not always consistent with contemporary nomenclature. Users interested in accessing them must resort to several strategies in order to find them. There is an excellent overview of how to find these materials on the Library of Congress website.    

About the Collection:

Milwaukee Public Library
The Milwaukee Public Library has a collection of Sweet’s catalogs, which were major compilations of trade literature for architectural, engineering and manufacturing. The Sweet’s architectural files are a very significant resource for the BTHL. The Milwaukee Public Library is a future partner for APT, which would add the Sweet’s catalogs from the 1940-1963 period.

About the Collection's%20catalog__Orightresult__U?lang

University of Minnesota, Northwest Architectural Archives
The Northwest Architectural Archives has a collection of 7,000 trade publications in the areas of architecture and related aspects of the building arts and trades. An extremely wide range of products is represented in the literature, including linoleum, plumbing and heating fixtures, structural steel, millwork, lighting systems (both gas and electric), construction machinery, greenhouses, metal ceilings, office furniture, prefabricated buildings, doors, windows, household appliances and bank vaults, among many others.  In addition to the trade catalog collection, the Northwest Archive has a Stock Plan Book Collection containing about 400 published compendia of plans for houses, commercial structures, garages, churches, small stores, lake cabins, and farm buildings from the same period. The collection is arranged alphabetically by author and publisher.

The Northwest Archive also contains the company records of the American Terra Cotta Company. The collection contains shop drawings from the American, Midland, Indianapolis and Winkle Terra Cotta Companies, along with photographs, negatives, order books and indexes. The collection was processed and the finding aid written by Statler Gilfillen; published as "The American Terra Cotta Index," 1972.

About the Collection

Philadelphia Athenaeum
The Philadelphia Athenaeum trade catalog collection consists of approximately 2,000 items. The holdings are particularly strong in areas such as paint colors, lighting fixtures, wallpaper, heating and kitchen equipment, plumbing, and household furniture. Internal finding aids are available. Most of the trade catalogue holdings have been entered into the RLIN system and Athena, the Athenaeum’s online catalogue.

About the Collection

National Building Arts Center
The St. Louis Architectural Art Company library consists of some 30,000 books, manuscripts, periodicals and trade catalogs relating to architecture and the allied arts in addition to thousands of drawings and photographs. The collection is particularly strong in topics related to masonry and terra cotta construction.

About the Collection

Smithsonian Institution
The Smithsonian Institution, primarily in the library of the National Museum of American History, has more than 40,000 trade catalogs. The collection is stronger in the areas of technology, industry, and agriculture than it is architectural and decorative arts. Trade catalog subject areas include air conditioning, boilers and heating, but there is no specific subject area for architectural and building supplies. Within the broad category of “Equipment and Supplies” there are subheadings for bathrooms and fireplaces. The library’s collection can be searched through the online catalog.    

About the Collection

Smithsonian Libraries trade catalog materials online


Decoration and Ornament[]=subject%3A%22Decoration%20and%20ornament%22


Interior Decoration[]=subject%3A%22Interior%20decoration%22

Art Deco: Trade Catalogs at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Library

Sydney Living Museums, Caroline Simpson Library and Research Collection
The Sydney Living Museums cares for a group of twelve of the most important historic houses, gardens and museums in New South Wales, Australia. Their research collection includes more than 2,500 trade catalogs of architectural, gardening and home furnishings. They have started to digitize some of these material, which are shared on the Internet Archive.

About the Collection       

Trade Catalogs and the American Home
Adams Mathews Digital, a SAGE Publishing Company, is a provider of primary source research materials that serve a broad variety of research interests. The archival materials are drawn from leading archives and libraries around the world. The collection of Trade Catalogs and the American Home come from the collections of the University of California, Santa Barbara (the Romaine collection), the Winterthur Library, and the Hagley Museum and Library. The collection emphasizes domesticity, daily life, consumerism, and technology in America between 1850 and 1950.

About the Collection

Tulane University, Southeastern Architectural Archive
The Southeastern Architectural Archive preserves and collects trade catalogs associated with architecture and building professions. The architectural trade catalog collection contains about 1,500 items. A full list is available online. The nucleus of the SEAA's trade catalog collection came directly from architects practicing in the New Orleans metropolitan area who received them in the course of doing business. In the summer of 2014, APT digitized 720 documents from this collection and placed them in the BTHL.

About the Collection:

University of California, Santa Barbara
The University of California, Santa Barbara (USCB) library contains a trade catalog collection of more than 41,000 catalogs assembled by Lawrence Romaine. Approximately one quarter, or more than 10,000, of these catalogs relate to architectural and decorative arts topics. Romaine’s Guide to American Trade Catalogs: 1744-1900, published in 1960, was a primary reference for trade catalogs in the pre-Internet era. The UCSB collection is still arranged along the lines of Romaine's Guide. These materials were cataloged as a separate collection, with access via subject or name of company. Subjects are arranged alphabetically; with box numbers beginning anew for each subject or category. Many subjects have been further divided into categories, frequently arranged alphabetically. Arrangement and box numbers have been retained as found since they are embedded in the existing box-level cataloging records. As a result, similar materials or materials from a given company sometimes are found in more than one box, and in other cases apparently dissimilar materials may be located within a given box. There is an online finding aid to the subject categories, but the individual catalogs have not been indexed and are not searchable via the online library catalog.

About the Collection

The Winterthur collection brings together some 3,200 trade catalogs spanning the years 1750 to 1980. Organized in 30 topical sections from agricultural implements and machinery to wall and floor coverings, the collection will serve historic preservationists, historical archaeologists, historians of technology, and social historians as well as students of the decorative arts in America. Within each topical section, the catalogs are arranged alphabetically by manufacturers, with dates given in order. The collection was converted to microfiche in 1989. The collection has been fully cataloged and can be searched on-line. The materials do not circulate. A large number (approx. 1,000) of the furniture catalogs have been digitized and placed on the Internet Archive.

About the Collection