Catalog Fantasies

There’s no question that, after getting magazines in the mail, my favorite activity is shopping. Mail order catalogs combine the best of all worlds.

I got my start on the Sears and Spiegel catalogs; carefully marking up everything I wanted Santa to bring me. And when my mother would tell me there would be a budget for Santa’s offerings, I’d invest even more hours, totaling up prices for my wish list.

I left the Old Country before everything, absolutely everything, was online. Amazon was about as good as it got back in those days. Merchants would send paper catalogs in the mail, and sometimes the day’s harvest would be a foot high. Neiman Marcus.  Horchow.  Sakowitz.  Orvis.  L.L. Bean.  Williams Sonoma.  Chef’s Catalog.  Sur Le Table. Patagonia. Edward R. Hamilton. Jessica’s Biscuit.  Smithsonian.  The museum store catalogs. J. Peterman (I still have the inaugural issue). Bloomingdale’s.  Bonwit Teller. Banana Republic. Zabar’s. Smith & Hawken.  Honeybee.  Chadwicks of Boston.  Sky Mall. Vermont Country Store. Eddie Bauer. Lands’ End. I. Magnin.  Archie McPhee. Design Toscano. Garnet Hill. Gump’s. Ferragamo. Jack Rogers.  Famolare. And that’s not counting the seed catalogs, which are a story for another day.

I never met a catalog I didn’t like – except for those from someplace in Pennsylvania that bought up addresses and sold polyester bed sheets with a thread count of less than 360. Those hit the wastebasket right at the post office.

After dinner, I’d pour over them, sometimes pretend-ordering stuff. By the time fax machines rolled around, ordering was even easier than ringing up that 800 number.  A friendly voice at L.L. Bean was ready to talk, any time of the day or night. One time I called Famolare to place an order and got to talk to Joe Famolare himself.  The gargoyle over my gate came from a catalog.

Before moving to Mexico, right along with sending out change of address cards for everything else, I made sure that catalog merchants got notice of my change of address. I wanted the catalogs to follow me. Some did, and some didn’t. Now the catalogs have dwindled down to just a few, mostly because I’ve gone to the websites and re-upped.

Ordering online just isn’t the same, unless you’re talking about books and electronics. But for everything else, I want to savor the enchanting copy, dog-ear, mark up, and tear out the page, appreciate the paper quality and even file it away. It was the perfect shopping experience, combining the thrill of the hunt with finding the best prices from the comfort of home.


And then there’s the catalog that’s a class unto itself: Hammacher Schlemmer. It doesn’t promise fashion or style, but it will make everything right in your life. More than just FAO Schwartz for adults, Hammacher Schlemmer is a mirror of what we are. Back in the day, I’ve ordered an electronic rodent repeller, a stepladder which I still use, a comfy wool blanket, and more gadgets than I can remember. Hammacher Schlemmer is all about “the best,” “the only,” the soft and comfortable, and stuff you not only can’t find anyplace else but didn’t even know existed.

Hammacher Schlemmer is back in my mailbox, in full print glory, reminding me of what today’s customers really, really want. It’s all about aches, pains, and iStuff.

In the iCrap category, you can find:

The iPhone Binoculars
The iPhone Slot Machine
The iPhone Photo Printer
The iPad Pen
The Bose iPhone Sound Dock
The Rolling Bedside iPad Stand
The iPad Charging Floor Stand
The Only Read and Write iPad Flash Drive

Hammacher Schlemmer has always promised relief for aching backs, necks, bottoms and feet, but this year, there seems to be a theme.  Plantar fasciitis must be a plague among its customers, because the Last Minute Gift 2013 catalog offers up:

Plantar Fasciitis Insoles

The Gentleman’s Plantar Fasciitis Orthotic Walking Shoes

The Plantar Fasciitis Relieving Foot Sleeves

The Gentleman’s Indoor-Outdoor Plantar Fasciitis Slippers

The Plantar Fasciitis Orthotic Sandal

The Lady’s Plantar Fasciitis Indoor/Outdoor Slippers

The Lady’s Plantar Fasciitis Athletic Shoes

But wait, there’s more. Those aching feet must’ve affected Hammacher Schlemmer’s customers’ minds as well, because there’s a full selection of the best from the Painter of Light Thomas Kinkade:

Thomas Kinkade Revolving Christmas Tree Topper
Thomas Kinkade Illuminated Crystal Snowman
The Night before Christmas Reciting Santa Designed by Painter of Light Thomas Kinkade
The Thomas Kinkade Animated Christmas Tree
The Thomas Kinkade Glistening Wreath
The Thomas Kinkade Illuminated Musical Sledding Snowman
The Thomas Kinkade Crystal Santa Claus
The Thomas Kinkade Crystal Music Box

I don’t need any more iThings, my feet don’t ache, and I really am not worthy of Thomas Kinkade’s finest, but there are some things you can buy me from Hammacher Schlemmer for this year’s Christmas:

The Exact Reproduction Wizard of Oz library, a bargain at $949.95

The Heated Zero Gravity Massage Chair, $3,000

The Authentic Morgan Three-Wheeler, $59,000

Or you could just save yourself time and money by sending me an gift card.

21 comments on “Catalog Fantasies

  1. Tancho says:

    Growing up, my favorite catalog was Sears, since they had departments and stuff for almost everything one could want. From fishing stuff, outboard motors, rifles, Kodak cameras and TV sets.
    Then I got interested in radio and spent days and days peruse the Allied Radio catalog, now both catalogs are gone, but occasionally I will dig out my Allied Catalog and reminisce of what 5 bucks could purchase back in the late 50’s……


  2. I’m going to buy you the Morgan Three-Wheeler! Because I love you so.


  3. A Kitchen-Aid mixer for Thanksgiving, and now the Morgan Three-Wheeler. I can’t wait to see you’re going to get me for Dia de los Reyes.

    I knew that investment I made in the $500 Harry & David fruit basket I got for you would pay off big-time.


  4. I was just talking about this with my Mom. When my kids were small, after Thanksgiving dinner, they would each take turns sitting with Grandma and the Sears Wish Book. My son was very selective. He had a short but targeted list. My daughter wanted everything. So she and Grandma would list pages of items. Now the kids are grown and the Sears catalog doesn’t exist anymore (as far as I know). But someday there may be grandchildren! In the meantime, it can be about me, me, me!! :-)


    • I’d completely forgotten about the Sears Wish Book. My mother wisely got childfree neighbors to give us theirs, so we wouldn’t have to share. There was even a page in the Wish Book to make lists. My sister and I got hold of our little brother’s and added to his wish list: a truss and a portable commode.


  5. My last five years above the border, between the time my wife kicked me out and 2000, I got really into catalogs, and I bought a good bit of great stuff. My favorites:

    J. Peterman
    L.L. Bean
    Banana Republic.

    There were others. The names now escape me, and you do not list them.

    Did you see that Joe Famolare died just this year?


  6. J. Peterman introduced me to Mephistos. For old times’ sake, I just went to the website and ordered myself up a new catalog.

    There are many, many more catalogs I didn’t list: Cabela’s,.Norm Thompson, REI, Magellan, Talbott’s, Frederick’s of Hollywood, The Cotton Company, The Sharper Image, International Male, Penzeys Spices, too many to list. I never met a catalog I didn’t like, except those from Hanover, Pennsylvania.

    Yes, I noted Joe Famolare’s death.


  7. John Calypso says:

    Before we even reach the States we are ordering from Amazon – it will be there before us ;-) Definitely HOOKED!


  8. I am thankful for faithful, trustworthy mules who’re driving back from the U.S. with Amazon and Sephora orders containg a pressure cooker, books, and makeup this season. I may yet order an extra keyboard, because I’m very particular about my keyboards, which can’t be had around these parts. (Yes, I still use and love desktop computers.)


    • Keyboards?! My, my. What kind of extra special keyboard does missy require? I am mystified. To me, a keyboard is a keyboard. If the keys don’t stick, I’m happy.

      But yes, desktop computers are the cat’s pyjamas. I would go nuts with only a tablet or some other little wobbly thing.



  9. In an effort to put on my big girl pants, I’ve triede Spanish keyboards. They were OK, but whenI was reunited with my favorite Microsoft wireless comfort 5000 keyboard, it was likie getting back with an old friend again. I’m hard on keyboards, the letters wearing off and the keys becoming smooth in less than a month. I like to swap out a new keyboard every few months. It’s my indulgence, like Lancome makeup, which costs way too much in Mexico.


  10. John Calypso says:

    Bought two MSN 5000’s in July up there! I wear them out – but really like the feel – like an old IBM Selectric keyboard – and the mouse can work from across the room.


  11. Steve Cotton says:

    I must have been a catalog fan at one point. I fear, though, that data must have been on the large segment of my internal hard drive that has gone entirely blank. The best I can do at this stage of my life is to order the odd bit on Amazon. I feel like one of those Russian princes exiled to Paris in the 1920s.


  12. Carole Kocian says:

    The cost of the many catalogs during this season that go straight to the recycle bin could probably feed the world. And that’s the catalog only. Never mind the prices of the contents! Amazon is my go-to for almost everything which means I never have to leave my house to buy anything. And now that we are getting groceries delivered, I mean I never have to leave my house :)


  13. I love Amazon, don’t get me wrong, but I still dearly miss my print catalogs, much for the same reason I read magazines. There is always something in both that gets me out of my comfort zone, something I would not have otherwise read if I was just clicking away only what I was looking for. Had that Hammacher Schlemmer catalog not arrived in the mail, I would remain ignorant about the impact of plantar fasciitis and Thomas Kinkade on American culture.


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