Reference, preference - catalogue collecting

13 June 2022
The catalogue collecting bug, explained
Reference, preference - catalogue collecting Images

Working on the premise that everyone collects something, it will probably come as no surprise to learn that catalogues are not only in demand, but also seem to be appreciating in value.

What, then, is the attraction of these ephemeral publications which, rather like glossy magazines and periodicals, were probably binned when they had outlasted their usefulness? Take a trawl around the online auction sites and you’ll see why. Weekly or monthly magazines from the 1960s and 1970s are getting harder and harder to find – and it’s much the same with toy catalogues.

Why collect catalogues?

The toy catalogue is a fascinating genre for many reasons. If you are a completist and you know that you will never, ever, amass all those Lesney 1-75 first series models, for example, a Matchbox catalogue can bring instant salvation and satisfaction in equal measure. True, you only have visual representations to whet your appetite and the actual diecasts will remain tantalisingly out of reach, but at least you have the collection. And, if for a minute you consider the likes of Husky Toys or Hot Wheels, their collectors have a similar conundrum in that they cannot actually touch the bubble-wrapped merchandise.

Catalogues also have a huge merit in that they do not take up an awful lot of space. We all know that collecting anything today tends to shrink the available living quarters in an average house yet with a catalogue collection, you can have dozens of examples occupying an area so modest that it is bound to keep your partner (or perhaps your parents) sane. What, as they say, is not to like?

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As with anything that is derived from a tree, the older the catalogue, the more likely it is that it will have suffered some damage, whether through general wear and tear or, horror of horrors, through being exposed to moisture. It’s as well to remember that these items were bought in the main for or by children, so longevity and condition probably did not feature high up on the average child’s agenda. Rips and staple holes, creases, unidentified sticky substances and crayon or pen marks can all be found on catalogues. Some would aver that this adds to their charm; others will be less impressed.

So the reality is that condition is everything, much as it is with banknotes, stamps and newspapers. Mind you, that’s not to say that old, tatty catalogues should be overlooked; the fact is, all are worthy of saving, and if you can only a find a dog-eared, torn example, it could probably serve until a better one comes along. And, if you are blessed with patience, a better one eventually does.

As for size, this varies enormously, from impressive A4-sized catalogues to skimpy flyers and small scale notebook type catalogues. One or two manufacturers even ventured down a totally different route: Hinchliffe, which majored in Napoleonic white metal artillery kits in the 1970s, came up with the idea of a card folder within which was a monochrome photograph of each item, with full details of the kit in a couple of paragraphs below. This was miles away from the norm – and somehow persuaded the buyer that here was a very exclusive line of collectables indeed.

So, there’s no one size fits all when it comes to catalogues, which raises the question of storage and display and how best to execute this side of the equation.

The range available

Here’s the biggest problem – what exactly do you look for? I suspect that many people begin by simply chancing across an example of a catalogue which they owned all those years ago and they subsequently secure it for nostalgia’s sake. After a while, curiosity gets the better of them and they branch out into other years by the same maker, just to find out what they never had.

If I recall, in my impecunious youth, I didn’t buy many catalogues: being a kit building fanatic, I would rather have spent the cash on another project or some paint or brushes. You will appreciate, then, that Airfix catalogues, together with those of Revell and Tamiya, and later Historex, were my main reference points.

Selecting a large, well-established manufacturer, such as Airfix or Britains, means that you can effectively chart and build up the company’s progress over a period of time. Early catalogues are generally the hardest to find and may include much in monochrome: not too exciting to the modern eye, perhaps, they nonetheless they give an insight into the workings of the company’s commercial team and how they viewed the world all those years ago.

The visual side really requires no explanation: any toy company having its wares photographed and fetchingly displayed within the pages of a catalogue was on to a winner in my book. Aside from singling that company out from the crowd, the catalogue acted as a spur: to the young reader, idly thumbing through it with a bottle of lemonade to hand, there was always another model that beckoned. In fact, the best catalogues were little short of engrossing and kids would pore for hours over their images, lost in daydreams in which the harsh realities of insufficient pocket money simply didn’t figure. It was, in a pre-electronic world, simple escapism.

And finally, if you don’t actually set out to collect catalogues, you may find them nonetheless making their way into your study or hobbies room, where they will sit happily alongside your collection of diecasts, kits or model soldiers. They are, when all is said and done, the perfect accompaniment.

Happy hunting!