I’ve periodically mentioned when I’ve acquired new additions to my collection of old uniform catalogs, and several readers have asked to see more of them. So today we’ll take a little stroll through the stacks of the Uni Watch Library.
Some quick background: I generally prefer catalogs from the 1950s or older, for three primary reasons: (1) Uniform design was more interesting in those days; (2) catalog graphic design was more interesting in those days as well; and (3) the older catalogs are more likely to include fabric swatches, which makes the catalog much more appealing. I do have some pieces from the 1960s and ’70s, but those are more the exception than the rule.
As for other preferences, by now you all know what I like: stripes, socks, functional specificity. With that in mind, so here’s a quick rundown of my favorite catalogs from my collection, running from oldest to most recent:
• Sears, Roebuck catalog, 1911, 5.25″ x 7.5″, 36 pages. This is the oldest uniform catalog in my library, and was also the most expensive. How much did it cost? Too much. Then again, considering all the fabric swatches (including a few pinstripes) and cool illustrations (some of them in color), I have no buyer’s remorse.
• Iver Johnson catalog, circa early-1910s, 10.25″ x 7″ (oblong), 12 pages. The only oblong catalog in my collection. Just a dozen pages, but they all have swatches! I especially love the little “Special Discount Price” note, which somebody hand-stamped onto each page and then hand-annotated in addition — a great touch. The whole thing is kinda fragile and falling apart, so I try to handle this one as little as possible.
• Freeplay catalog, 1925, 6″ x 9.25″, 20 pages. At first glance, this doesn’t look like much — boring cover, black-and-white throughout, ho-hum layouts, no swatches. But little treasures are lurking throughout, like the amazing “Girls’ Basket Ball Pants” spread and the note that the youth unis are “For Little Fellows.” Better yet, this catalog came with a mimeographed cover letter, a swatch and braiding sample sheet, and a prepaid reply card. A cornucopia of riches!
• Rawlings catalog, 1932, 7″ x 10.25″, 8 pages. A guy I know at Rawlings found a bunch of old uni catalogs in a closet and made a killing selling them on eBay. Fortunately, he offered a few of them to me first. This was the oldest one, dating to 1932, with a great mix of swatches and illustrations. Dig how those second and third colors really pop off the page!
• Rawlings catalog, 1940, 5.5″ x 8.75″, 8 pages. Eight years later, Rawlings had moved to a smaller trim size with fewer swatches and no illustrations. Unspectacular, but still worthwhile due to the lettering and hosiery pages.
• Spalding softball catalog, 1940, 20″ x 27″, two-sided fold-out poster. It’s hard to show the full scope of this one, because it’s too big to scan, but this shot at least gives you some idea of how beautiful it is. And check out that amazing logo — is that a classic or what? Unfortunately, all the fold creases are tearing, so I’m thinking about getting this one mounted and framed.
• MacGregor catalog, circa late 1950s, 7″ x 10″, 28 pages. No swatches but still one of my favorites, thanks to the sci-fi-ish football designs, available with a huge array of striping and trim options. The basketball section is just as good, and the hosiery page features something I’ve never seen anyplace else: a little mini-stirrup for basketball!
• King-O’Shea catalog, circa late 1950s, 8.5″ x 11″, 32 pages. Similar to the MacGregor, but with a two-color design. Some very nice bits here, including a good range of basketball stripes, a choice of stirrup openings (!), and the excellent warm-up jackets page, where customers could opt for a sailor-style collar and chose from a dozen different striping patterns.
• Harv-Al catalog, 1966, 8.25″ x 11″, 78 pages. This Canadian catalog has some truly amazing stuff, including curling sweaters, 13 pages of totally boss jackets, and letter-embroidered girls’ basketball hose. Some weird equipment offerings, too: Check out the “Scoop Models” on this page (especially item No. 299). They’d even sell you a set of beanies!
• Unique catalog, 1970, 8.25″ x 10.5″, 16 pages. Another Canadian catalog, this one devoted entirely to hockey. Not all that remarkable, frankly, but I couldn’t resist the toque page, and a layout like this one is bound to set off a small endorphin rush.
• Champion catalog, 1971, 8.5″ x 11″, 60 pages. A real page-turner, from the football socks and the Lady Champion line to the amazing “Design Your Own Football Jerseys” spread (left page, right page).
So where do I find all these catalogs? eBay, mostly, although a few of them have come my way through other channels. As often happens with eBay niche bidding, I’ve become aware of other collectors who are often bidding against me again and again. One of these people, a guy named Mike Hersh, apparently has a huge collection. He does design work for Ralph Lauren clothing and uses the catalogs for research and reference. He lives in New York, and I’ve been trying to get him to let me come over so I can see what he’s got and maybe write about him, but so far no dice. Mike, if you’re reading this, we’re overdue for that summit meeting, buddy.
Years from now, will anyone be collecting the catalogs of today? It’s always hard to imagine contemporary design being collectable, but that seems especially true in the case of current uni catalogs. Reader Ryan Barto recently pointed me toward this page, where you can download all sorts of Nike catalogs. They’re not particularly appealing, and not just because of all the swoosh-o-rama bullshit. They lack any sense of charm or playfulness, which is what makes the old catalogs so nice.
Uni Watch News Ticker: The Sabres, desperately trying to quell the rapidly building negative reaction to their crummy new logo, attempted to generate a bit of goodwill yesterday by announcing the unveiling of a throwback third jersey. … In case you missed it, yesterday’s comments section included a logo anti-creep alert regarding Marlins pitcher Josh Johnson, whose cap didn’t have the MLB logo on the back on Wednesday night. … By coincidence, yesterday Yahoo Sports ran this All-Star Game photo, which shows that the MLB logo was missing from Johan Santana’s jersey. … Yesterday’s comments also included a lot of chatter about facial hair. You can find some background on that topic here. … Several NBA teams will have anniversary logos next season, including the Pacers, Nuggets, Cavs, and Sonics (clearly the best of the bunch). The Cleveland mark will appear on the team’s new throwback uni; not sure if the others will actually be worn on the court, although the league’s usual protocol is for such logos to appear only on warmup outfits. … I’ve got jury duty today, so talk amongst yourselves. Or better yet, quick, someone file a suit against Major League Baseball demanding the elimination of pajama pants — I’ll pretend to be impartial.