Cowboy Catalogue

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montgomery wardAaron Montgomery Ward was a visionary. Working as a door-to-door salesman in Illinois, he dealt with rural customers on a regular basis who longed to purchase goods readily available in cities but were at the mercy of local dry goods merchants who had little inventory space and no competition. Prices for special orders were exorbitant and quality could not be guaranteed. Ward believed that people would be willing to wait for goods if they could be purchased at fair price, so he set up a mail-order business in a single room in Chicago.

In 1872, he put out his first catalogue, a single sheet of paper containing descriptions of 163 items focused mostly on farming implements. In 1875, he began the unprecedented campaign of “satisfaction guaranteed or your money back.” His popularity skyrocketed. By 1883, his catalogue had become known as the “Wish Book” and had swollen to 240 pages with over 10,000 items. Montgomery Ward was the of the 19th century.

Out of all the resource books I use when writing, none gets more regular use than my reprint of the 1895 Montgomery Ward Catalogue. The information is priceless. Not only can I see pictures of items I want to describe (everything from furniture, to clothing, to kitchen utensils, to jewelry), but I can see prices and detailed descriptions. To give you an example, here are a few images taken from the catalogue. Even a rugged cowboy could get just about anything he needed from the Wish Book. Below are just a few samples:

MW SaddleMW Hat

MW Rifles

  • Do you remember flipping through catalogues as a kid? What were you’re favorite items to wish for?

I can remember the Sears and J.C. Penney catalogues that were so thick, my mom used them as a booster seat for me at the dinner table.

Speaking of mail order – or Kindle order – my novella, A Cowboy Unmatched, which was originally printed in the collection A Match Made in Texas, is now available as an e-single from Amazon for only $1.99. This is Neill Archer’s story. Right now, you can actually get all four of the novellas in the series for less than the collection as a whole if you buy them as e-singles.

Click cover to order

A Cowboy Unmatched by Karen Witemeyer

Tired of living in the shadow of his older brothers, Neill Archer leaves the family ranch, determined to prove himself his own man. After two years of doing everything from laying railroad track to driving cattle, he’s nearly saved enough to purchase his own spread. While passing through a small town in the Texas panhandle, a handwritten ad literally falls into his lap during the local church service and convinces Neill that God is steering him toward his next job.

There are two things Clara Danvers cannot hide—her grandmother’s Comanche blood and her hugely pregnant stomach. After her husband got himself shot cheating at cards six months back, she has worked hard to make the shabby cabin he’d left behind truly hers. But there are some things a pregnant woman can’t repair, and a leaky roof is one of them. When a handsome cowboy shows up at her door with a tale about a nameless woman hiring him to fix her roof, she’s suspicious but desperate enough to let him work.

Scarred by the men who have failed her in the past, Clara is forced to trust the stranger when danger threatens her child. Neill might prove to be an able protector, but can she trust him with the battered remains of her heart?

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For those who love to smile as they read, bestselling author Karen Witemeyer offers warmhearted historical romance with a flair for humor, feisty heroines, and swoon-worthy Texas heroes. Karen is a firm believer in the power of happy endings. . . and ice cream. She is an avid cross-stitcher, and makes her home in Abilene, TX with her husband and three children. Learn more about Karen and her books at:

20 thoughts on “Cowboy Catalogue”

  1. I loved looking at the catalogs as a child and also as an adult, they were fascinating.I also remember visiting my maternal great uncle’s father-in-law back in the ’59-’60 winter and finding a stack of catalogs in the out house.

  2. Molly – I think you discovered one of the classic uses for outdated mail-order catalogs. Before the comforts of Charmin, families would use whatever paper they could find in those outhouses. One of the less-than-romantic truths of the old west I prefer not to think about. *Shiver*

  3. Excellent blog, Karen! I immediately scooted over to Amazon and ordered both the Montgomery Ward catalog and your novella. I’ve wanted the catalog ever since I saw it in a bookstore twenty years ago and have been kicking myself ever since. It never occurred to me that Amazon would have it. Thank you so much! I remember as a kid how excited I was when a new Montgomery Ward catalog came out. The store would send a card in the mail which we would take to the store and pick up our free catalog. Then I’d spend days and days looking through it…and dreaming. The dolls especially got extra notice. I’d mark my selections on the pages and pray that my parents would get the message. Most things were too expensive though for us so I rarely got anything I marked. I never gave up though. Now they charge for the catalogs and it’s just not the same.

  4. Hi Karen, great post. I loved the Sears catalogue, which I think Sears/Roebuck published smaller than MW because it could sit on top of it and get reached for first LOL. My kids would pore over it and pick out their Christmas presents. I was sad when MW went out of business, the first big retailer in the US. I find myself ordering a lot of stuff from Amazon these days in addition to books. Congrats on A Cowboy Unmatched.

  5. Sherri – Me, too! Such a wonderful resource!

    Heidi – The detail is what keeps me coming back time and time again. I’ve learned so much about how things work just by reading those descriptions. It’s fabulous!

  6. Tanya – Ha! Look at your market savvy about the smaller Sears catalog. You should have been in marketing. 🙂 I’m an Amazon addict. Especially now that my credit card company lets me use my reward points directly on Amazon’s site, I buy even more there. If I save up my reward points during the year, I can nearly get all my Christmas shopping done for free at Amazon. Clothes, books, movies, video games, stuffed animals – nearly everything I could need. Amazon is the new “mail-order” system.

  7. When I was a kid, my sisters and I would circle and initial things we wanted in catalogs… usually toys or jewelry. Love the book’s cover! Thanks for sharing!

  8. I love that catalog too. I also have a couple of Sears Robuck & Co. And my History of Man’s Progress from Pioneer Village is another I can’t live without. I also use my horse books a lot.

    Hope you’re well. Miss chatting at P&P.

  9. Hi, Colleen! I would always dog-ear the pages. 🙂

    Cheryl – So fun to see you here, again! Thanks for sharing some of your favorite resources. It’s always good to have new sources to try. We love having you around. 🙂

  10. I remember using the Sears catalog to make my list to Santa. I’m amazed at the entrepreneurial spirit of Ward, Sears, and Roebuck, and they didn’t even realize they were recording history.

  11. Hi, Elaine! I’m with you. I’m amazed at how one man’s idea completely shaped a culture – and continues to shape it today. With the Internet, we’ve become even more reliant on mail-order merchandise. Buy it online, it ships to your door. Not much different from what Aaron Montgomery achieved with his catalogue.

  12. I guess I looked forward to the Sears Christmas catalog the most. Every year I sat with that catalog turned to the toy section and made my list for Santa. Oh, the wishes of a little girl.

  13. Hi Karen, your blog sure did bring back a lot of memories. I loved the Sears Catalogue (and I still spell it the original way). I own several old ones. There is no better research tool. Some things like Arsenic Cosmetic Soap and the Princess Bust Developer (which looks like a plunger)gives me the willies.

    Congratulations on your novella!

  14. I definitely remember catalogs when I was a kid! I loved to look through them, especially at Christmas! My brothers and I loved to circle items that we watched for Christmas and give the catalog to my parents instead of giving them a “list”! All they had to do was look at the catalog so there would be no worries about what we wanted for sure! We also had our parents circle what THEY wanted….good times!

  15. I remember those catalogues. As children, we spent many hours going through the Christmas Wish Books, often circling what we wanted (and never got).
    Somewhere in a box, I have a copy of an early catalogue (Sears, I think). It is fascinating to flip through and look at all that was available. And of course the prices always give rise to wishful longing for the “Good Old Days.” We forget how little people made at that time, so things really weren’t so cheap. They are such a wonderful window into the fashions and way of life of the times. Thanks for posting about it. I hadn’t thought of the old catalogue in a long time. I need to find it and flip through it again.

  16. Margaret – Thank heavens we know better that to use arsenic in our cosmetics these days! Scary is right.

    Valri – How fun that your parents got in on the wishing, too. We’re never too old for that.

    Patricia – A stroll down memory lane is a lovely way to spend a few minutes in the middle of the day. Hope the Good Old Days translate into Good New Days for you. 🙂

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