Old catalogs give us a peek into the lives, homes, tastes of either real or idealized consumers. Here's a vintage Sherwin Williams Paint Catalog, and its idea of the home of the American family of 1934.
1934- The US was in The Great Depression, Oklahoma was becoming The Dust Bowl, Hitler was on the rise, Mao Tse Tung began the 6,000 mile march, nylon was invented, Donald Duck made his first appearance in a movie, Babe Ruth hit his 700th Home Run, RCA Victor released the first 33 1/3 RPM (long play) record. The average new home cost $6,000, a gallon of gas cost ten cents. What can you read into this 1934 Sherwin Williams Catalog?
Sherwin Williams, The New Home Decorator, 1934 Cover
Sherwin Williams, 1934, The Joys Of Colorful Living
"Years of Lasting Happiness can be achieved with Sherwin-Williams Quality Paint. Painting offers the most natural way in the world to escape the drabness of dingy surroundings. We can see Nature busily engaged in the selfsame process on every hand. As she hides the grimness of winter landscape with every fresh snowfall she suggests how completely dingy houses and shabby woodwork can be transformed with paint."
Metaphor? Prescription?? I love the language: dense, descriptive and flowery. Why, even the rocks and flowers are provide for our enjoyment. By the landscaper or by God, we are not told.
"No place on earth is too barren for Nature to dress in color. Some of our softest woodwork and wall colors are suggested by the desert sands, the lava grays and the sage brush. Natural earths are dug up for our siennas, umbers, browns and terra verte, From iron ore comes a wide variety of reds and purples. If fact everywhere we go we have only to look with open eyes to see how generously color is provided for our enjoyment in rocks, sand, sea and flowers."
"Even the home of romping children can have this sunny dining room because tell-tale finger marks tell their tale only once with washable flat-Tone Walls."
"You will observe that your friends will notice and comment upon your painted walls. They are quick to sense a tailor-made quality which is just as individual in decoration as it is in clothing"
Elegant, tailored, but still the housewife is the one doing the painting in this picture. There are some in the catalog where a professional is doing the work. You can tell because he is wearing painter whites, and a cap. The Depression is hitting everyone. She is still in an apron and high heels, though.
"The colors you like, easily kept immaculate - that's what makes a happy kitchen"
"Here's a suggestion: Tack up a little sign over the breafast room door to read, "OUR COFFEE SHOPPE" The proceed to make it the cheeriest little corner you know how...just as if you were in dead earnest to attract particular customers to sample "the finest home cooking!"
"What happens to the children's clothing when they play and tumble around on the average porch? The answer tells why mothers get gray! ...A housewife can thoroughly enjoy a porch like this because it measures up to her idea of cleanliness."
The subtext to this, and to the rec room, I think, is that in hard times, clothing must be carefully preserved, middle class household can't afford servants to do the laundry, and we take our vacations at home. Reminds me of commercials on TV now that feature people camping in their back yards, picniking in their living rooms. Hard times.
"Begin your Joys of Colorful Living with S-W Enameloid. "Its fun to do such jobs as these with Enameloid because all the hard work and inconvenience have been taken out...We suggest that you look over pieces in your home, similar to those illustrated here. See if re=finishing a few pieces in your spare moments will not offer a solution to the new color scheme for the home."
"A barn like this painted in S-W Comonweath Bard Red is a mark of distinction. It is an evidence of thrift, good sound business judgment and an appreciation of the value of good appearance."
Wonder of wonders, this came in from a reader - the great grand daughter of the farm's owner :