There is an abundance of information online for the historic home enthusiast. But when looking to understand what types of fixtures and finishes might have been popular at any given time, there’s nothing more exciting than delving into vintage trade catalogs.
Pick an era and you can find out what linoleum models were on the market, what paint colors were in vogue, and whether that doorknob matches the style of your home.
There are a number available through Archive.org, but they can be a bit overwhelming to find. A handy collection to peruse is the Building Technology Heritage Library, a project of the Association for Preservation Technology. The collection of pre-1964 architectural volumes from the United States and Canada focuses on trade catalogs, house plans, and building guides. The online collection contains over 9,000 volumes, the oldest dating from 1784.
You can search the collection, so if you want to narrow your search, you can type in a search word like “lighting” and find everything from 1920’s residential light fixtures to the latest 1950’s fluorescent technology.
Here are some Brooklyn highlights from the collection:
Illustrated catalog of all the latest designs of Stoop Rails, Ballusters, Newels . . .
JS & GF Simpson North Brooklyn Iron Foundry and Railing Works, 1886
This Williamsburg foundry came up with over 100 pages of crests, railings, newel posts and perched gates to adorn an 1880s townhouse. The fairly detailed pictures should help if you’re curious about the model number from your own Brooklyn home.
Nature’s Harmony, Keystona matte finish
Keystone Varnish Company, 1913
Wondering what paint colors would have been trendy for your turn of the century townhouse interiors? This booklet offers suggestions for almost any room in the home in a product that they say “goes on like paint, looks like wallpaper.” The sales pitch for the Red Hook-based company’s products also assures aspiring painters that linseed oil paint is “more useful, healthier and hygienic” than other wall coatings.
Louis Bossert & Son, 1922
Louis Bossert was a big business in Brooklyn building, a 19th century lumber magnate and, of course, the man behind Hotel Bossert. His lumber yard along Newtown Creek provided supplies for building projects in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. His son took over the business at the beginning of the 20th century and started selling prefabricated houses. This catalog contains stunning images of the factory as well as plans for some of the home designs launched in 1922. Would you choose “Flushing Homestead” or “The Ridgewood”?
Colored floors for homes! For business!
Kentile, Inc., 1952
Looking to recreate a 1950s playroom? Although the Kentile Floors panel is still down, you can relive the glory of the company’s mid-century color and pattern options. As the brochure promises, “Your Kentile home is easier to clean!”
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