The Acquisitions Table: Van Etten Bros. Catalog

Van Etten Bros., Manufacturers, Importers and Jobbers of Novelties, Notions, Books, Photographs, Chromos, Stereoscopic Views, and a Full Line of Goods Adapted Especially to the Wants of Canvassing Agents. Chicago: Birnery Hand &Co’s Steam Printing House, 1876.

The Van Etten Bros. catalog is like a nineteenth-century SkyMall catalog, only instead of reading it while on an airplane, items would be sold by canvassers, or door-to-door salesmen (or women, apparently, for Van Etten Bros. declare: “We want one live, energetic lady or gentleman agent to canvass and sell our goods in every town in the United States”). Items for sale include not only “Dogs Playing Poker”-type popular images like the one here, but also all those strange inventions that you never knew you needed. The Defiance Lock Protector “renders it simply impossible to turn any key while it is in the lock,” and is apparently especially useful to secure hotel rooms. Hartshorn’s Improved Patent Folding Lamp Shade had “more than 100,000 sold in sixty days,” although the necessity for folding one’s lamp shade is less clear.  The importance of the Patent Duplex Ventilated Garter is more immediately clear, since “the garter should measure about three inches less than the circumference of the limb” it seems especially important that this one is unique in “insuring free circulation of the blood.”

Published by

Elizabeth Watts Pope

Curator of Books, American Antiquarian Society

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