There is a classic retail format that nobody misses.


There is a public outcry whenever a historic department store closes. Customers wax lyrical about how it was an important part of their lives. Former employees are interviewed by newspapers and local radio stations. Everybody worries about the future of the high street.

But there is one part of our retail heritage that far fewer people mourn. Indeed, it often slips away without most of us noticing.


The Guardian : “After 1bn copies and 118 years, the Freemans catalogue moves to turn its final page”.


The news that mail order brand Freemans is ditching its mail order catalogue, in recognition of its growing online sales, has come as a surprise to many people… because they haven’t seen a catalogue for years. It is a form of shopping that has simply slipped out of sight as it has been replaced by the faster and more convenient option of buying online.


Before the internet, most homes had – or had access to, via a neighbour – a number of catalogues for mail order shopping. The Freemans catalogue has been around for 118 years, as long as many grand department stores. More than 1bn copies have been printed in that time.


Thicker than a telephone directory – another publication which is now a shadow of its former self – the catalogue was where you browsed and shopped if you couldn’t get to the shops. They generally offered credit too, making them popular with those on limited incomes. The books sold everything from fashion to home appliances and garden furniture.


Retail Gazette: “Freemans ditches print catalogue after 118 years”.


But just as publishers are gradually moving away from printing hard copies of many magazine titles, so the catalogue brands are finding it an expensive and impractical medium: a website can fit so many more products in it than any catalogue, and you don’t have to print and distribute it. 


Even Argos, with its unusual catalogue/store format, dropped the printed version of its operation a few years ago.


The Guardian: “Argos to stop printing catalogue after almost 50 years”.


Traditional catalogues face a similar problem to that encountered by physical department stores. No matter how big the store or catalogue, nor how broad its product range, it cannot compete with Amazon on either selection or price.


Yet while we gaze sadly on dusty, decaying department stores as we pass them on our travels, the demise of catalogues makes very little difference to us at all. 


So while nostalgia for department stores is public, leaving empty spaces in our high streets and collective memorie, nostalgia for catalogues is a more private affair. 


Search though, and you will find people who miss the reassuring heft of a big, old catalogue, complete with period typefaces, Technicolor-like images, and now-retro fashions. They collect, sell and share the publications with all the passion of true collectors.


Naturally, they do it on the internet,


Freemans | VintageCatalogues.