Saturday, May 1, 2010

Catalogs from 1975 and 1973

Treasures uncovered from the 1975 Marshall Field's Christmas catalog:

First, the ooh and aahs. In honor of the upcoming Bicentennial, a small assortment of honest-to-goodness antiques. A $5,000 pewter plate made by William Will, $5,000. A pewter porringer by Frederick Bassett, one of the few extent pieces, $4,500. In the upper left, an autographed signed letter from John Jay, $12,500. Belowit, an autographed letter from George Washington, $8,500. Those are 1975 prices, folks.

Also, the magnificent furs. The furry white one is dyed blue fox from Norway with feather-cut fur, styled to be worn at three different lengths. The dark one is a mink coat by Pierre Cardin.
Guaranteed never to be seen in fashion again: Coordinating his-n-hers denim leisure outfits:
The more independent man might choose to go his own way in a Mighty-Mac (yes, that's the brand for the blue number below) leisure suit.
Never again will cotton corduroy fancy painter paints be so fashionable:Before engineered basketball shoes and high-fashion sneakers took over, everyone wore Treton tennis shoes. I remember agonizing over which color to get:

Ah, yes, Frango mints, a tradition that really had only just begun to be pushed by Marshall Field's. A one-pound box is just $4.25. And there are just four flavors: lemon, mint, rum, and coffee. And of course, a Wedgwood Jasperware tray with the Field's clock for $15.
Nothing says 1970s Christmas like these: a patchwork tree skirt, gingham quilted stocking, corn husk mice, pine cone wreath, and handwoven Christmas tree wall hanging from Colombia.

I so much remember this red-and-white logo, covering Christmas boxes that got used and over and over because they were so thick and sturdy.

The first page has dolls, including -- woo-hoo -- Madam Alexander dolls. The set of 5 were the Little Women plus Marmee. My sister had all four. I never understood why Marmee was the same size as her children. We spent hours playing with these. Then the basement flooded several feet and Beth, alas, suffered from an incurable case of mold and bad hairstyling for the rest of her existence.

My sister also had the Scarlett O'Hara doll. With a green belt. When I saw the movie and noticed her belt was really red, I was incensed, because clearly the movie got it wrong. Little did I know that this doll cost $19.95. That's $95.27 in 2009. At least we loved her to death. As far as I know, her underwear, tights, and shoes came off immediately upon arrival home and were never seen again.
Ah, some groovy 70s craft kits. Here they are, all in one place. Let's play I Spy. Can you spy: the candy-making kit? the macrame kit? the batik kit? the incense making it? the 3-D string art kit? the woodburning kit? What the happy puppy sniffing a flower is doing in the upper left corner I have no idea.

I can't believe it -- it's an actual Big Wheel, complete with "rakish low-slung suspension" for stability. A bargain at $12.95 (or maybe not, that about $50 today). But worth every penny.

I throw this one in because every girl I knew had one of these rustic cedar log cabins. They always got smelly and fully of decaying trees after a year.

I would have much preferred those adjustable Satellite jump shoes for realistic moon-walking.Another one just thrown in because I recognize it -- in this case, because I had it: Paint 'N Peel. Absolutely no point except to draw a picture in paint, let it dry and then peel it off. I think I tried eating one once.
You don't realize how far electronics have come until you see the electronic toys of 1973. A four-transistor Marfield (ha! Marshall Field's made!) walkie-talkie with a one-block range and groovy brick-size stylin. But really ... a crystal radio kit? A telegraph signal system? You'd think these toys were made by old men who grew up in the 20s. Oh, wait ...
This stuff reminds me of a time I went into a museum and saw a Winnebago RV toy I'd owned as child. It was just an incredible thrill. There's the nostalgia of course. But it's something more. That odd realization when you notice that something that was incredibly familiar and a part of your everyday life had disappeared. And been gone for years. So long that it had become unfamiliar, but familar at the same time.

Looking at this catalogis is like suddenly encountering your past self, someone you totally know and recognize but don't recognize as yourself anymore. Funny how history works that way.

Pacesetter Shop

One of the most charming things about old department stores is how they worked to make you feel you were entering a small boutique shop every time you entered a new department. Thus, for example, if you're not comfortable in the haute couture 28 Shop and are too old for the children's Assembly Room, well, maybe the Young Chicago Shop is just for you:

(From the store's 1946 guideboook). Clearly, the goal was to alleviate the feeling that you're in a large impersonal mega-store and make you feel more like you're in a small specialized boutique store. Sometimes they even had their own front door:

(Also from the 1946 book.) Notice how the architecture -- the curved bay window with small panes of glass, the pedimented doorway, even the glimpse inside at what looks like a living room with upholstered chair, couch and lamp -- all makes it look as if you're entering the home of a classy, elegant but not ostentatious friend who will guide you through your own classy, elegant, but not ostentatious wedding.

The "shop" architecture could even be a way to signal whether the fashion within suits your style or not, as in this 1970s ad which practically screams "trendy, fashion-forward, not suitable for women who fear pants, enormous fur hats, and maxi dress. Coats with huge fur collars within!"

What's most intriguing is that when department stores moved into suburban malls, they tried to keep the "shops-within-a-store" concept, but seem to have become overwhelmed in a "shops-within-a-mall" environment. Soon the small, specialized boutiques that surrounded the big department stores became more the destination than the big stores.

Friday, April 9, 2010

A Walk Through Marshall Field's in 1946

Thumbing through a copy of the store's 1946 guidebook (tellingly, a guidebook for both the store and the city -- presumably as a useful service for tourists):

it occurred to me that scanning this booklet is almost like taking a walk through the store, so I thought I'd post a few. These aren't all the photos in the guidebook, but a scattered assortment for those who care to step back in time. You start on the main aisle:

If that image doesn't make you think of a cathedral I don't know what will -- the classical columns drawing your eye upward, the long collonade stretching into the distance, drawing your eye ever towards the ... door to the street.

The Jewelry and silver departments, on the main floor, Wabash side. Field's had jewelry, watch-repairing and silver workrooms on the 10th floor as well:
The Georgian Room also featured a "superb selection of antique silver, with the hallmarks of the best old English silversmiths." The Georgian room, part of the antiques gallery, was on the 9th floor:

The Gift Court on the 2nd floor, suited for harried shoppers who want to dash in and out with a suitable gift for a loved one. (Not pictured: The Gift Box in the corner where you could have a gift wrapped or just purchase what's needed to do the wrapping yourself):
The fourth floor was devoted to children's wear and toys ... the latter being much preferred by young shoppers. This section, the School Girl Shop, was decorated with "pale wood, lots of light, chic red leather benches and amusing displays." If that doesn't keep a school girl from wanting to head over to the next section, "home of one of the largest collection of unusual toys to be found anywhere in the world," well, I don't know what will:

The guidebook didn't have a photograph of the Playroom, but here's one from just about the same time. The store itself described this room as a place "where children may be 'parked' while mothers do their shopping."
On the beloved fourth floor, the Magic Marionette Theater. Good for luring in exhausted mothers with bored children on a Saturday and giving them something to do. And, hey, if they see a toy or two they can't live without while there, well who's to complain?

The Wedding Bureau on the second floor. Descendant of the first wedding registry in the country, established in 1924 (or so the story goes, does anyone know differently?):

The Young Chicago Shop on the 6th floor. For sub-debs and school girls.

Here's one of the 28 fitting rooms there, decorated in 14 two-of-a-kind styles -- lace, bamboo, pink-and-beige, etc. -- so if the dressing room with your favorite decor is occupied, there's an identical one you can use. Also, 28 Shop special china. Ah, the luxury ...

(That's another shot not from the guidebook, but very close in age).

The Narcisscus Room restaurant, with windows facing the lake, which had fashion shows during the week, except in summer.
At this point there were five restaurants on the 7th floor (not including the pantry and the herb farm shop): The Walnut Room, the Narcissus Room, the English Room (overlooking the North Well), the self-service Crystal Buffet, and the smaller party/club meeting Wedgwood Room.

The Trend House on the 8th floor. A complete model home (really complete -- I mean, with roof and front lawn). Actually, in 1946 there were 2 -- a modern home and a period home, each redecorated regularly

The telephone switchboard in the 12th floor. State 1000 was the number -- surely a phone number coup if ever there was one. The main store had 62 outgoing lines, 155 incoming lines and often handled an average of 70 calls per minute with the record number of calls per day more than 35,000. Not including interhouse house to the suburban branches. Man, this store loved numbers.

Also on the 12th floor, the personal shopping service for people who write or call in their orders. "No matter how far from Chicago you may be, Marshall Field & Company is no farther away than your mailbox or telephone."
The daylight candy kitchen, with white-gowned workers making candy. Sidenote: I find it interesting that although the store acquired Frangos with the acquisition of Frederick & Nelson in 1929, the Frango mint candies so famous today were not really advertised or promoted until the 1960s. I haven't found Frangos in catalogs or guidebooks or advertisements. There's one mention of a maple Frango on a menu from about 1950, but that is undoubtedly the frozen dessert:

The Store for men, across Washington St. at the southwest corner of Washington and Wabash:
They advertised the Store for Men as "A Separate Store in a Separate Building." It was just the first 6 floors (and 3 basements) of the 20-story building. They said John Shedd got the idea when he saw ladies having to endure an elevator ride in the main building with men smoking cigarettes. More likely, it was a way to get men out shopping without the, er, embarrassment of being one of the few men in a store teeming with ladies shopping.

The first floor of the Store for Men was, well, eerily similar to the main floor of the main store:

One thing this guidebook has no photographs of: the Budget Floor. Although by this point it had become the largest individual selling floor in the world. At least, according to Field's. Which was, I'm sure, fully unbiased in that.

Friday, February 12, 2010

In search of your Marshall Field's photographs!

Ever take your kids to see the Marshall Field's Christmas windows? Or eat in the Walnut Room or get a makeover at the cosmetics counter?

I'm in search of personal photographs of Marshall Field's Department Store, especially the State St store, for an upcoming illustrated history of the fabled department store. The book, titled Remembering Marshall Field's, is slated for publication in April 2011.

All photographs are welcome, but especially these:

-- Photographs that show any departments of the store, even just in the background (for example, customers trying on a wedding gown in the bridal salon, school clothes shopping, trying on hats with friends, getting make-up tips, etc.)

-- Photographs of kids visiting Field's Santa

-- Photographs taken at a special event at the store, such as a booksigning, the Christmas decorations, the lightwell flag, a visit from a celebrity promoting some new merchandise, etc.)

-- Photographs showing behind-the-scenes (for example, employees eating in the employees lunchroom, stocking inventory, working the telephones, making candy)

-- Photographs from any decade are welcome. I am especially in need of photographs from the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.

Photographs must be those that I can obtain permission to republish (such as something you took yourself) and I'll need to either be able to borrow it for a short while to scan it or obtain a high-resolution scan of it. Photographs must be received by me no later than August 31, 2010.

Yes, there are official photographs taken by store photographers and many of those will be included in the book. But it is the snapshots from the people who knew and loved the store that I'm interested in, the personal ones that could make this book something to treasure.

This is a wonderful way to preserve and honor this grande dame of department stores. Take a minute to look in your photograph albums and consider sharing your share memories with others.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Marshall Field's and the Field Museum

Yes, their names are similar: Marshall Field, Field Museum.

But beyond just the assumption that he gave a lot of many, how many modern Chicagoans actually know the link between Marshall Field and the museum that bears his name?

The founding of a museum to house biological and anthropolical specimens predates any involvement of Field. The museum came about because people felt there was a need to save and preserve collections assembled for Chicago's World's Columbian Exposition in 1893. Those collections -- which formed the core of what later grew into a much larger collection -- were at the center of a new museum incorporated on Sept. 16, 1893 as the Columbian Museum of Chicago. And it was housed, logically enough, in Jackson Park, where the Columbian Exposition had been.
The building chosen was also the logical one -- the building erected as the Palace of Fine Arts. While it had a glistening plaster facade like many other buildings put up for the Fair, its costly art contents demanded greater protection and strength. So it was the only Fair structure built of brick, given it a permanence that virtually all the other fair buildings lacked.

Not until 1905 did the museum's name change to honor Chicago's retail giant. As the museum's first large-scale benefactor, Marshall Field won the honor of seeing the museum changed to the Field Museum of Natural History.

The museum stayed in Jackson Park until 1921, when it moved to its present site on what is now known as the Museum Campus.

When the Field Museum left Jackson Park, the former Palace of Fine Arts was eventually transformed into the home of the Museum of Science and Industry.

Monday, January 11, 2010


Norman Rockwell immortalized the store’s clocks in a typically whimsical illustration for the cover of the wildly popular Saturday Evening Post on Nov. 3, 1945:
The clock depicted is the Randolph St. clock, as evidenced by the Oriental Theater sign partially visible in the background.
Like other Rockwell paintings, this image presents a sentimental snapshot of American life – the working-man clockmender whose simple pocket watch establishes the time for a grand clock whose immense size literally dwarfs him (in reality, the clocks were set inside the store).
By using Marshall Field’s clock, Rockwell helped cement the store’s status as an iconic symbol of both grandeur and typical American-ness. Rockwell donated the painting to the store in 1948.
Macy’s later donated it to the Chicago History Museum, sealing its status, in turn, as an icon of Chicago history.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The cathedral of all stores

There has been a lot written about how department stores often emulated church architecture. At least as early as 1922, the store's "new" buildings were referred to as the "Cathedral of all Stores."

But what does this really mean? Just that they were really big and impressive?

Well, yes, that's part of it. Department stores certainly wanted to claim for themselves many of the characteristics that made churches so dominant in society.

Consider, for example, the nave - the long wide aisle that served as a cathedral's principal architectural detail.

Interior of the Basilica di San Lorenzo di Firenze, Florence, looking towards the high altar. Photo taken by Necrothesp, 20 May 2004.

The nave serves a number of functions in a cathedral, but for our purposes, a key feature is to emphasize the building's length. The impressive pillars add to the illusion, drawng your eye down the long expanse.

Now compare the photo above to this: Hmm? Look slightly familiar. Granted, here we're not being urged to look towards anything -- certainly nothing as spectacular as a sanctuary. At the end of this particular aisle is the door exiting onto Washington St.

But whether we realize it or not, as shoppers the architecture is doing to us the same thing it does for a cathdral -- emphasizing for us a sweeping, dramatic expanse of space. Giving us a sense of awe and wonder. Creating an emotional reaction that identifies this space as a special space set aside from the tawdry, everyday world.

OK, perhaps I'm getting carried away. We could go on to some silly lengths (ever notice that the main entrance to Field's was placed on the west -- just as it is in cathedrals? Well, ok, so that's where State St. just happens to be, but stil ...)

Still, it's worth noting the common desire among cathedral and department store architects to design spaces with a feeling of awe, splendor, and ritual.

And perhaps therefore not a coincidence at all that just as cathedrals had spurred on and used some of the most impressive technological and artistic achievements of their day, department stores pushed for and made extensive use of amazing new technological achivements innovations.

All you have to do is look at the large expanses of plate glass in a department store display windows dating from the early 20 century to see that.