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Digitization of Historic Architectural Catalogs in Progress

August 8, 2011

by Larissa Galenes

When you walk into a historic home, where do your eyes settle first? The carved front door with stained glass inserts? The lighting fixtures: brass or copper chandeliers with hanging teardrop crystals and ornate sconces? Crystal doorknobs and hand-turned newel posts, or the flowery wallpapers of days-gone-by? You see tile fireplaces with decorative iron grates, well-worn wood floors and cabinets, and maybe even an original Chambers range in the kitchen.

It’s common for visitors to these homes to wonder how they appeared when they were first built, who were the inhabitants, and what was it like living in their era. How often do we wonder, however, who made all the components that make up the house and how did they become part of it?

A collection of architectural catalogs and books from the last quarter of the nineteenth century onward is currently being digitized at UTSA Special Collections. Some catalogs allow us a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the design elements of historic buildings. The Sherwin Williams Company’s The ABCs of Painting (1915) andOak Flooring: How and Where to Use It (1922), published by the Oak Flooring Advertising Bureau, for example, contain chips of paint and stain colors, as well as application advice.

ABCs of Painting page image

ABCs of Painting (1915)

Oak Flooring page image

Oak Flooring: How and Where to Use it (1922)

Paramount Quality Lighting Fixtures Catalog(1920) has an extensive selection of chandeliers, sconces, and outdoor lighting. Because Paramount Lighting is still in business today, it is easy to compare styles used in the twenties to those in use today.

Paramount Lighting page image

Paramount Lighting Company (1920)

Books such as Palliser’s Model Homes Showing a Variety of Designs for Model Dwellings (1883) and Radford’s Artistic Bungalows(1908) offer floorplans and ideas for construction.

Palliser's page image

Palliser's Model Homes (1883) Radford's Artistic Bungalows (1908)

The collection also contains furniture catalogs (pictured: The Cincinnati Furniture World Catalog, 1884) and a massive wallpaper sample book, R. Federman & Sons Wall Papers of Distinction (1925; not yet digitized) . When viewed in person, the sample book offers an amazing sensory experience; each turn of a page reveals a different set of colors, patterns and textures.

Cincinnati Furniture page image

Cincinnati Furniture World catalog (1884)

Wall Papers page image

Wall Papers of Distinction (1925)

Due to copyright restrictions, publications after 1923 are not available online, but may be located through UCAT and viewed in person in the Special Collections reading room on the fourth floor of the John Peace Library at UTSA’s main campus.

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