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Trade Literature

The Trade Literature collection, in the National Museum of American History Library of the Smithsonian Institution Libraries (SIL), is one of the largest collections of American industry catalogs and related literature in the world. The collection includes catalogs and other materials that chiefly span the years 1875 to 1950. Definitions of the term "trade catalog" vary, but in general, trade catalogs are printed materials published by manufacturing, wholesaling, or retailing firms. They promote sales by making advertising claims, give instructions in using products, provide testimonials from satisfied customers, and include detailed descriptions of sale products. Trade catalogs may include prevailing prices, frequently listed on separate sheets of paper. All in all, trade catalogs are an invaluable source in studying the social, business, industrial, and advertising histories of the United States. However, in certain fields, such as scientific instruments and machine tools, foreign companies are well represented in the collection. With over 300,000 items from approximately 25,000 companies, the Smithsonian Libraries Historical Trade Literature Collection is a scholarly resource that tells about the rise of American industry. Thanks to the donation of several large gift collections, and the purchase of part of the Franklin Institute collection, the trade literature continues growing. The Smithsonian Libraries has just begun exploiting the potential of this undocumented collection. Cataloging is well under way, and several digital projects have been completed and can be found elsewhere on SIL's web pages.

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