Catalog 56 was our most controversial catalog ever. It marked our move from black and white on newsprint to beautiful color on glossy paper. Believe it or not, we lost customers over this! Or so they said, we got lots of letters from people who said they were giving up on us because we dared to show the products in color. We have a feeling that they continued to order, but we don’t hold their initial resistance against them. Change is hard. In the end, it did help us gain new customers, but as this letter from inside the catalog points out, we mostly spread by one Archie McPhee customer finding a kindred spirit and sharing us.
I’ve procured a new sacrifice to the gods of silliness. He’s actually my math teacher (he grew enamored with your catalog after he confiscated it in class).
I also wanted to take this opportunity to thank you again for existing – you guys always make my week.
See Catalog 56 here!
Post about Catalog 1
Post about Catalog 18
Post about Catalog 32
By 1994 Seattle had become a hip place. While most of this is because of the number of amazing bands on the Seattle scene and some amazing comic artists, we like to think that we helped a bit. This catalog cover featured our store staff and one of them (Pete on the far left) still works there. The layout in the catalog is a bit tighter and more traditional, but it still has a funky feel. One thing to check out in this catalog is the collections of stuff, our Tiny Treasures were one of the most awesome things we’ve ever sold.
Also, Archie McPhee started to help people find one another. We got calls from people in remote areas pleading with us to tell the name of anyone else in their zip code so they could find friends or romance. Here is a letter, from the catalog, telling one story of love through Archie.
Dear Archie McPhee Pals
Another true romance story! We met, we talked a lot, we went out to lunch, sparks flew, we went to the movies, we were too shy to do anything but talk. Then we went back to his place for some innocent Mystery Science Theater 3000 viewing. I spot your catalog on his coffee table! I place it strategically between us and lean forward to peruse it! I mention many of my favorite items… he leans forward to look… we are both leaning forward and reading your catalog intently… his arm slides around me as he leans closer to check out something I’m pointing at… and… we look at each other, realize true Archie McPhee love, and finally kiss! Wahooo! Thanks for providing a great starting point for people to meet and connect.
San Carlos, CA
Catalog 32 is here!
Post about Catalog 1
Post about Catalog 18
Here’s another scanned catalog – Catalog 18 from 1990. This catalog featured the muddy black and white pictures and awesome writing our customers had come to expect. Also included was a statement of purpose that is as true now as it was then. Except for the part about robots, we now welcome our robot overlords.
OUR PURPOSE IN LIFE
We are folks who have a great time finding, creating and providing you with hard-to-find, hard-to-beat, wonderful things. When we select something for the catalog, we think about quality, fun, astonishment, aesthetics, and the object’s place in the History of the World. If we may go on a bit more, we’d like quote an excerpt from The Siege of Krishnapur, by J.G. Farrell (Set in India, Sepoy Uprising, 1857): “…we are raising ourselves, however painfully, so that mankind may enjoy in the future a superior life which now we can hardly conceive! The foundation on which the new men will build their lives are Faith, Science, Respectability, Geology, Mechanical Invention, Ventilation and Rotation of Crops!”
We work hard, the old-fashioned way, without robots, and every order gets personal attention. We try our best to ship fast and correctly. And if we screw up, we will make it right! We appreciate your business and our mission is to make you laugh or exclaim with wonder and to deliver good value fast. And to remind you to rotate your crops.
Click here to see McPhee Catalog 18.
To celebrate our 25th anniversary, we’ve scanned and posted our first catalog! The text below it is from the introduction to our upcoming book written by owner Mark Pahlow describing exactly how this catalog came to be.
I did the primitive layout for those first few (catalogs) myself. I’d take bad black and white photos using my Pentax 35mm Spotmatic. Then the photos, developed by the first Costco in the nation, were taken to Bozotronics in the funky Fremont neighborhood to be made into halftones. I’d cut these and paste them onto paper using rather toxic rubber cement. With an IBM Selectric typewriter, I’d type out copy to go with the images.
The strength in those early catalogs was not in the presentation, but in the writing. Since the pictures were often dark and printed in muddy black and white on cheap newsprint, it was difficult to make out details. My descriptions of the products were often honest statements detailing how terrible the product was or rambling humorous screeds that mentioned the product only in passing. This suited my character and seemed to connect to certain eccentric members of the public. You know who you are.
Click here to see the whole first Archie McPhee catalog.