Old House Lovers Will Drool Over These Vintage Architecture Trade Catalogs


    There’s an abundant amount of information online for the historic house lover. But when looking to understand just what kind of fixtures and finishes might have been popular at a particular point in time, there’s nothing quite as exciting as dipping into vintage trade catalogs.

    Pick an era and you can find out what linoleum patterns were on the market, what paint colors were trending and whether that doorknob is right for the style of your house.

    brooklyn design

    Brooklyn Metal Ceiling Company, 1900. Image via Building Technology Heritage Library

    There are quite a number of them available via 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 U.S. and Canada focuses on trade catalogs, house plans and building guides. The online collection holds more than 9,000 volumes, with the oldest dating to 1784.

    You can search within the collection, so if you want to narrow down your focus you can type in a search word like “lighting” and come up with everything from residential fixtures from 1920 to the latest in fluorescent technology from 1950.

    Here are some Brooklyn highlights from the collection:

    brooklyn design

    Newel posts from J.S & G.F. Simpson via Building Technology Heritage Library

    Illustrated Catalogue of All the Latest Designs of Stoop Rails, Ballusters, Newels . . .
    J.S.& G.F. Simpson North Brooklyn Iron Foundry and Railing Works, 1886

    This Williamsburg foundry offered up more than 100 pages of cresting, railing, newel posts and stoop gates with which to adorn an 1880s row house. The fairly detailed images should help if you are curious about the model number your own Brooklyn house might be sporting.

    brooklyn trade catalogues

    Image from “Nature’s Harmony” via Building Technology Heritage Library

    Nature’s Harmony, Keystona Flat Finish
    Keystone Varnish Company, 1913

    Wondering what paint colors would have been on trend for the interiors of your early 20th century townhouse? This booklet offers suggestions for almost every room in the house in a product they claim “goes on like paint, looks like wallpaper.” The advertising pitch for the products of the Red Hook-based company also assures prospective painters that the linseed oil paint is “more useful, more healthful and sanitary” than other wall coverings.

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    Image from “Bossert Houses” via Building Technology Heritage Library

    Bossert Houses
    Louis Bossert & Sons, 1922
    Louis Bossert was a big deal in Brooklyn building, a lumber magnate of the 19th century and, of course, the man behind the Hotel Bossert. His lumberyard along the Newtown creek provided supplies for building projects in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. His son took over the business in the early 20th century and started dealing in pre-fabricated houses. This catalog has great images of the factory as well as plans for some of the house models being pitched in 1922. Would you choose “Flushing Homestead” or “The Ridgewood”?

    brooklyn design

    Image from Kentile Floors, Inc. via Building Technology Heritage Library

    Colorful Floors for Homes! For Business!
    Kentile, Inc., 1952
    Looking to re-create a 1950s rumpus room? While the Kentile Floors sign may still be down, you can relive the glory of the company’s mid century color and pattern options. As the brochure promises, “Your Kentile house is easier to clean!”

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