Monday, May 14, 2012

Sears, Roebuck's 1922 Catalog of Electrical Goods and Radio Apparatus

As some of you know, I run a small e-publishing company (first book, 1999, so we were pioneers). Steve Davis sent me some scans from his copy of this 64-page catalog from Sears, published just at the moment radio was changing from a hobby for experimenters to a mass medium of entertainment for the entire culture. Here's the cover (click for full-size version):

The first sixteen pages of the catalog are devoted to electrical appliances, and are lots of fun to look at. It's surprising how many home housekeeping functions were covered by things you could buy in 1922; and some of them had been available in one form or another for two or three decades by then. The radio interest begins on page seventeen, and continues until the end. Most of the entries are components, but there are modular chunks for assembling a complete receiving set, and even a couple of fully assembled modular packages. Here's a typical page (click for full-size version):

This was so cool that I talked Steve into scanning the entire thing, so that I could publish it as an e-book. It took me two months to clean up all the background trash on the pages (they're printed on cheap paper and the catalog is ninety years old), figure out how to format it so that it would fit in an e-book package, and get it uploaded.

It's now on sale in ePub format (for any ebook reading device) and in Kindle format (for Amazon's hardware). You can buy it on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google Play, and at the Apple iBooks store (search terms: Sears 1922 radio catalog). It's beautiful, if I say so myself, and it's $2.99.

Yes, it's cheaper than a latte.

There is no DRM (!). You can print pages out. You can lend it. You can even sell it, if you should be so internally damaged as to want to.

Obviously, we're not doing this to get rich. It just looked like something I wanted to own a copy of, and this was my rather involved of doing so ... with the result that you can own a copy, too.

One extra neat thing: if you are reading the book on an iPad, or on a software reading app on your computer, and even on certain hardware devices, you can double-tap the page or stretch the window to make the image very, very large. You can make it large enough that you can read all the little tiny type on all of the pages.

Getting this feature to work was one of the things that made formatting it a challenge. Although ebook reading devices nominally have small page sizes, the underlying image can be larger in number of pixels, as long as you don't go over a file-size limit. This book pushes all those boundaries. All the work I did in Photoshop to clean up the pages, to make the edges clear, and to minimize graphic artifacts collided with the file-size limits, and by sneaking around these limits we've made every page readable in complete detail. (Though you do have to read it on the right kind of device; on your iPhone it may be just a little bit too small no matter what.)

Buy a copy. Tell your friends. Did I mention that the two images in this blog post (large versions) are the images we used for those pages in the book? Click to make them big (limited by the size of your display, of course), and see what you think.


  1. OK, looks interesting. I fix and restore old radios and radio apparatus in my spare time. Many of the parts from the teens and 20s have no documentation other than these catalogs. I am always interested in looking at good reproductions of old literature.

    I bought a copy from Barnes & Noble which I downloaded to my Nook. It looks good, but I can't change the font size on the Nook. I'll have to copy it onto my laptop to read the print.

    All in all, a good effort. A great look into the past. You did a very nice job on cleaning up the old catalog. Thanks for the effort and hope that you sell lots of copies.

  2. Thanks for the nice words; glad you liked it. I'll do more, once my eyeballs uncross from the cleanup project. Where would be good places to get a review?

    I showed it to people this weekend on my iPad, just to demo what is now possible with ebooks. Tap on the screen, and you can then split-finger expand the page until any of the small item illustrations fills up the screen. I'm glad I've lived long enough that this has all come true.