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Woolworth's first catalogues in the 1929 - 1940

 

Opening advertisement from the Liverpool Daily Post & Mercury. (Our thanks to: Liverpool Evening Post)

In its early years the company rarely advertised. Occasionally handbills were produced to support a store opening and there were rare press advertisements to support big product launches like Gold Rings, Woolco Cotton and Lorraine Hairnets. But that was the limit. The founder, Frank Winfield Woolworth, summed it up like this: "Dress your windows twice a week with big leaders with prices attached. This is our advertising."

By the 1930s most Woolworth stores were typically two or three times larger than the originals. The range had become increasingly diverse, making it harder to keep customers aware of what was available. At the same time sales of magazines like Picturegoer were at an all-time high and had inspired a new style of "window-shopping" at home.

 

The Woolworth Home Shopping Guide (effectively a product list) was given away to customers along with the 50th Anniversary booklet.

The American parent took the plunge with a pocket-sized "Home Shopping Guide" as part of celebrations of their 50th anniversary in 1929. It showed what ranges were stocked rather than giving details of specific products, and no prices were shown beyond the catch-all slogan "Nothing over 10 cents". It was a big hit and many customers kept the little booklet for reference about what products were available from the Five and Ten. In Britain, Woolworth started to advertise occasionally after going public in 1931. Most examples ostensibly announced a new opening while also promoting the brand and the breadth of range available in-store. The first full-page advertisement appeared in the London edition of the Daily Mail in 1932.

 

F.W. Woolworth Advertisement from the London Edition of the Daily Mail in 1932. Click the image to open the full advertisement in a new window

 

Staff started to encounter customers holding the advertisements and asking for one of the featured items, or if they carried one of the more exotic 'larger stores only' departments. New sixpenny help brochures with advice as diverse as how to wire a plug and how to care for a canary sold well. This persuaded the firm that a general 'how to' catalogue might do well. In 1938 they launched Good Things To Know Magazine.

 

Good Things to Know - F. W. Woolworth & Co. Ltd.'s first catalogue. More than a million copies were sold in 1938 and 1939 for threepence (1½p) eachThe back cover of the first F. W. Woolworth & Co. Ltd. Good Things To Know compact catalogue features an advertisement for an Ever Ready Razor with two star blades, all for sixpenceThe new compact pamphlet was three pence. It included tips and tricks for the home and money-saving ideas. Features included supplier-funded adverts for items that could help do the job easily. It was marketed as a "miniature encyclopedia".

This was a clever mix and proved popular. There were tips for the kitchen, bathroom and garden as well as recipes, quizzes and beauty tips. It made regular references to items from store range.

The booklet soon made good on its promise to deliver a guaranteed readership of a million.

 

A sample spread from the first Good Things to Know booklet, which illustrates the mix of advertising and editorial. A number of advertisements from this booklet appear in the product galleries here in the Woolworths Museum

 

The second edition of Good Things to Know was altogether more austere, reflecting the difficult circumstances in the UK after the Battle of Britain. The booklet explains the temporary suspension of the Company's upper price limit of sixpence. This never came back.The first Christmas catalogue produced by the American Woolworths, which dates from November 1940. The upbeat homely style seems a million miles away from the austerity of Britain in the BlitzThe second edition of Good Things to Know was very different.

By 1940 Britain was at war with Germany. It showed how to "make do and mend" old clothes, stretch meals further and black out windows.

Life was good in the USA. The country stayed neutral and enjoyed a boom. Woolworth published its first full colour catalogue. Its forty pages featured treats as well as practical items.

The designers' work was ground-breaking. They created a modern look, which set the standard for others to follow.

 

The British magazine (illustrated above and below on the left) was printed on low grade paper. Only the cover was in colour. It showcased Ezeglide Curtain Rail as a solution for blackout curtains and had charts to help people recognise Allied and Axis planes flying overhead. In North America, the full richly illustrated magazine (above and below on the right) carried the theme "Let Christmas be merry and bright ... for all". It suggested ways to brighten the home with candles and decorations from the five-and-ten. A further contrast was that, while most British items cost sixpence (2½p) or less, by 1940 a number of US prices had reached a dollar, roughly ten times more.

 

3,000 miles apart - but it could be a million miles. Christmas Catalogues from F. W. Woolworth UK on the left, offering blackout curtains for the Blitz and from the same company in the USA showing how to make Christmas merry and bright for all with candles and decorations