Smithsonian Institution Libraries'
Trade Literature Collection

The trade literature collection of the Smithsonian is internationally known as an important source for the history of American business, technology, marketing, consumption, and design. Manufacturers issued trade catalogs to promote and sell their products. The present collection contains more than 500,000 catalogs, technical manuals, advertising brochures, price lists, company histories and related materials representing more than 30,000 companies. The Smithsonian Libraries acquires trade literature through gifts and purchases. [more about the collection]


Smithsonian Trade Literature Collections Online

100x60Seeds.jpg Seed and Nursery Catalogs
The Smithsonian Institution Libraries have a unique trade catalog collection that includes about 10,000 seed and nursery catalogs dating from 1830 to the present. Many of the trade catalogs were part of the Burpee Collection donated to the Horticulture Services Division by Mrs. David Burpee in 1982. The collection includes both Burpee and their competitors' catalogs. The real gems of the collection date from 1830 to the 1930s and are both beautiful and important multidisciplinary historical documents. The seed trade catalogs document the history of the seed and agricultural implement business in the United States, as well as provide a history of botany and plant research such as the introduction of plant varieties into the US Additionally, the seed trade catalogs are a window into the history of graphic arts in advertising, and a social history, through the text and illustrations, showing changing fashions in flowers and vegetables.

100x60SewingMachineTradeLit.jpg Sewing Machines: Historical Trade Literature in Smithsonian Collections
This guide illustrates the range of materials published by and about sewing machine companies in the United States, starting in the 1840s. Sewing machine catalogs and other industry materials are just one portion of the remarkable collections of manufacturers' trade literature held in the libraries, archives and curatorial units of the Smithsonian Institution.

100x60Legarde.jpg Le Garde-meuble, ancien et moderne
Le Garde-meuble, ancien et moderne (Furniture repository, ancient and modern), a bimonthly periodical published in Paris, exerted an enormous influence throughout the world by promoting French styles in furniture, fabrics, and interior decoration for a nearly a century, beginning in 1839 during the reign of Louis Philippe and ceasing in the waning years of the Third Republic around 1935.

100x60Coaches.jpg The New York Coach-Makers' Magazine
Begun in June, 1858, the New York Coach-Makers' Magazine" was "Devoted to the Literary, Social and Mechanical interests of the Craft" and directed primarily to proprietors of the coach shops

100x60Housepainter.jpg The House Painter, or, Decorator's Companion
The House Painter is a splendid example of the kind of trade manual which serves as a primary document in the history of technology, manufacturing, culture, and aesthetic styles. The SIL copy is a well-worn, craftsman copy, and is an intriguing artifact in itself.

100x60InstrumentsforScience.jpg Instruments for Science, 1800-1914: Scientific Trade Catalogs in Smithsonian Collections
Scientific trade literature is a unique and uniquely valuable category of historical evidence. But it has not always been so highly regarded. Being commercial documents, catalogs have traditionally had a hard time fitting into library or archive collections. Even the companies that printed these catalogs expected their usefulness to end as soon as the next edition was printed. That's why so many of them were printed on the cheapest paper available. In many ways it's not surprising that so few of them have survived - or that when they have survived, their existence has gone unnoticed.

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