Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Researching 1800's Items by Linda K. Hubalek


When reading a historical fiction book, readers expect the writers to have the facts right about the time frame the book is set in.

It takes research to find the correct term for things still used today, too. My favorite source for finding items and their descriptions is in my reproduction of the 1895 Montgomery Ward & Co. Catalogue and Buyer's Guide. (Yes, even the word for catalog was different back then.)

For instance a men's billfolds were called books. You had the choice of bill books, hip-pocket books, and extra large bill books.

Want to buy a woman's coat? Think along the line of "Ladies Wraps", be it a cloak, cape, jacket, shawls, and under the children's section you can also find "reefers".

Men's hats? Choose from planter hats, sombreros, fedoras, cow boys' hats (cowboy is two words in the catalog), straw, hunting caps to silk top hats.

Need a saddle? The catalog has eight pages of detailed illustrated ladies' side saddles, boy's saddles, men's varieties of English, military, Morgan tree (we'd call them western style) with double cinches. Cost? Most saddles ranged between $10 to $25, with the least cost at $3.75, and the most expense, the new "Pride of the West" at $37.25.

This 600 plus page catalog showed thousands of items a person could order by mailing the company a letter, and the items would be delivered through the mail service too.

I love looking through the catalog just to see what a person could order.

No where else could you order a stove, a dog remedy, jewelry, a surveyors' compass, a butter trowel, a fish spear, a hammerless shotgun, a china oatmeal set and a two-seat business wagon, all from the same catalog.

I don't think Amazon could even come close to having all of these (be in 1800's) items available.

Thanks for stopping to enjoy today's Sweethearts of the West blog.

Linda Hubalek

11 comments:

  1. Interesting info, Linda. Do you ever use a more current term for something just so the correct one doesn't slow down a reader? Or do you trust they'll figure it out from context? For example, if I read that a man pulled a book from his pocket, I wouldn't think of a wallet. How do you handle that type thing?

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  2. That's a good question, Chill N. I try to stay with the correct name for the time period or place, but then describe it to help the reader figure it out. Readers can get upset if writers use the wrong terms. Thanks for asking!

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  3. What a wonderful post, Linda. I loved MW, the oldest retailer in the USA. I was so sad when the stores closed fifteen years or so ago. What a fascinating reference book this is~ Thanks for sharing.

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  4. Hi Tanya, I love reading this catalog and looking at the detailed illustrations. What a wonderful way to learn about an era. Thanks for leaving a comment today.

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  5. I remember one of my teachers in elementary school called sweaters and coats "wraps". I thought it was a neat term. I was just a kid, but I knew exactly what she meant.
    Research into terminology is a mighty handy thing. Nothing disturbs me more than to read an historical novel than to have one of the characters spout off modern terminology. It takes me right out of the story--about the last thing an author would ever want.
    Honestly, I think I can get old terminology better than I can modern. I hear my great niece talking and I get lost in some of the words. Just when I think I'm updated, dang if those darn kids don't up and change everything. I think it's their form of Morris Code to keep adults out of their business.
    Some day I'm going to write a story that requires no research. I'll make it take place in the 1970's in North Carolina. LOL
    Loved the hats, Linda. Great blog.

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    1. Hi Sarah, Yes, if I'm reading a book and it's using wrong terms, it spoils it for me too, but the story can still be good - so I'll keep reading.
      Thanks for the note.

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  6. As a little girl, I got to play with the outdated Sears and Roebuck catalog. I could do all kinds of things with it...make up stories, make houses....budding author, you know. But I have honestly never seen a Montgomery Ward catalog. We shopped in their stores plenty of times---I just don't recall a catalog. But aren't those wonderful? I absolutely love such information--such as the hats!--or anything else one might need to know for a period story. Thanks so much for this wonderful post....right up...or down...my alley!

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    1. It was a treat for me to when my grandmother got her new catalogs. I'd go through it page by page. Good memories of Grandma now, just thinking about her catalogs!

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  7. Linda, I didn't know this was available. I have my reproduction (wouldn't we love to have an original) 1897 Sears Roebuck catalogue. I refer to it often when writing. I've found the same thing you pointed out--things often had different names then. I never located a few items. Still, a fun way to research. Now I'll have to order the Montgomery Wards version.

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    1. Hi Caroline, The 1895 reprint of the MW catalog is available on Amazon- and it's worth buying. Thanks for stopping by today.

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  8. I just discovered your blog. I love the depth to a story the accurate language adds. i found you book, Rania Ropes a Rancher: A Historical Western Romance (Brides with Grit Series Book 1), on a listing of free books and downloaded it. A new story to read tonight!!!!

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