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Grand Rapids in 1856

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Furniture Catalogs

Furniture Catalogs

April 21st, 2014

The Nelson, Matter Furniture Company's small, 1876 catalog appears to have been the first, but the idea caught on quickly among other Grand Rapids furniture men.


Before the days of photography itinerant furniture salesmen might be gone for many weeks accumulating orders from all over the country. His furniture orders would not be constructed until he returned home. How could a purchaser be expected to spend a large sum of money, on something that hadn’t been made yet, simply from an oral description or by looking at a sketch?

The answer became sample furniture, which was made by the company’s own cabinetmakers. They would produce as many different items as possible in miniature using the exact same woods, construction techniques, and workmanship. In essence they were the identical twin of their larger grown-up counterparts in everything but size.

Elias Matter, one of the founders of the Nelson, Matter Company in Grand Rapids, is said to have been the first to equip his salesmen with photographic samples, thus saving the expense of making the miniatures. However, Matter did not really originate the idea. While in Jackson, Michigan he met a man who was taking orders for baby carriages using photographs as samples.

When Matter returned home he immediately engaged a photographer to make pictures for his salesmen. The company’s small, 1876 catalog appears to have been the first, but the idea caught on quickly. By 1880 Berkey & Gay, Phoenix Furniture, as well as Nelson, Matter were providing their salesmen with photographs displayed in large gold-embossed, leather-bound catalogs.


Full Details

TitleFurniture Catalogs
KeywordsWYCE; radio; Grand Rapids; Historical Commission; furniture; catalogs; Nelson Matter
Pubdate StringApril 21st, 2014

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