November 22, 2009

The Sears Wish Book catalogue: a time honoured tradition

For many who have grown up in North America few things are apt to bring back a flood of holiday nostalgia quite like thinking about the annual Sears Wish Book catalogues of our youth. Produced and distributed well in advance of the “big day” each year, these large, glossy paged tomes were the fodder for many a child’s wildest dreams of what may lay in store for them under the tree come Christmas morning.

{Santa beams his jolly smile festively from the cover of a 1957 Sears Christmas catalogue, an image that I’m sure countless kids were thrilled to see appear in the mailbox in the autumn of that year.}

While Sears and their catalogues have been around for considerably longer, the Wish Book (also known as the Sears Christmas catalogue) itself first debuted in 1933. Stocked with a seemingly overflowing menagerie of everything from holiday decorations to shoes, jewelry to scores of toys, the Wish Book quickly became a beloved publication for families across America and Canada.

Though I have never had the pleasure of holding a vintage copy of a Wish Book in my hands, I do recall the 1980s and 90s versions with a good deal of clarity and many a happy memory. Back in those days (and I’d venture to guess in the decades leading up the eighties) the Wish Book was somewhat different from the iteration that exists nowadays, though of course there were endless similarities too. Yesteryear Christmas catalogues seemed to devote more pages catered directly to children. Perhaps it’s just the perception of my imagination, but I seem to recall a much larger (and more diverse) section of toys in the Wish Books of my youth, compared to those of today.

Like many children the world over, I wrote heartfelt letters to Santa as a youngster, promising him that I had been tremendously good all year and asking for a handful of items (I seem to recall my parents telling us we had to limit the number of things we requested). Though I didn’t honestly always end up getting what I’d asked for, the notion that I could, maybe, just maybe, watch a toy or two materialize from the pages of the Wish Book into a present under the tree was more than enough to fuel my love of Sears’ Christmas catalogue.

{A doll house so pretty I would still be thrilled to be given such a present at the ripe old age of 25, was amongst the offering in the 1947 Wish Book, and no doubt was something that tons of little girls implored Santa for that year.}

Gone are the days of penning notes to St. Nick and of thinking I could hear reindeer hooves stomping on the roof, if I listened carefully enough. What remains however is a soft spot in my heart for the Sears Wish book, which I still eagerly run out to bring home and pour over each year as fall starts to resemble winter.

I dream of one day finding a vintage (circa the 40s or 50s) copy of a Wish Book that my wallet can smile about, but until that day happens (such catalogues have many a fan on sites like eBay, who snap up not only Wish Books but Sears catalogues from other times of the year, too), I know that there a fantastic online source that showcases entire copies of vintage Wish Books.

The aptly named source I’m talking about is, a site that brims with not only scanned copies of Sears Wish Books, but also a handful of other holiday season catalogues from chains such as Spiegel, and Lord & Taylor (with catalogues spanning the decades from the 1930s to the 1980s). The images (such as the ones in this post, which hails from Wishbookweb) on this immensely handy website (it is, for example, a tremendously useful source of images that show women’s, men’s, and children’s clothing from vintage catalogues) are well sized, clear, and chocked to gills with enough images to keep you entertained and fascinated long after the last Christmas stocking has come down.

As the years roll by and no doubt paper copies of old Christmas catalogues become harder to find, it is a joy to know that such a website exists for all those who wish to view (or relieve pleasant memories of) copies of Wish Books from the past.

I personally have this site bookmarked and return to it often throughout the year as a reference source for all manner of vintage items one might encounter in a Sears catalogue. It is, however, at Christmas when I most find myself spending hours flipping through the (virtual) pages of the old Wish Books on that site, imagining the countless people, both children and the young at heart alike, who poured over these Wish Books when they were brand new, fantasizing about the Christmas gifts they most wanted to both give and receive alike.

{No matter your ages, there was always something in the Sears Wish Book that was bound to catch your eye. These lovely tie neck jersey blouses from the pages of the 1945 catalogue might have found themselves on the lists of both mom and big sis alike.}

As the Christmas season descends upon us, I thought this weekend would be the perfect date to post this entry, giving you a few weeks to immerse yourself in these wonderful old catalogues, daydreaming that you could still stock your letters to Santa with items from their pages. If you also look back affectionately at thoughts of the Sears Wish Book, I would love to hear about your Christmas catalogue memories.


  1. Thank you for writing about the Wish Book! I too remember pouring over the Wish Book when it arrived in mid-October in the 90's when they would still deliver it to your house. I don't have any vintage Wish Books, but I do have the 1963 Eaton's Christmas Catalogue. I miss Eaton's. I'll scan some pages from it next week. Any product requests?

  2. I'm so grateful that these old catalogues have been digitized... I love 'flipping' through them online.

  3. Oh that Sears Wish Book sounds wonderful. I don't remember having anything like that here.

  4. I love the Sears Wishbook! A a kid, my grandparents would get one for my sister and I and have us make a list from it. My grandpa still has them, too. It's fun to see what you wanted as a child.

    Best wishes,

  5. Hey Jess, its katie! your blog just gets better and better!
    miss ya sis <3

  6. Oh goodness this brings back some Christmas catalog memories! I actually loved the JCPenney's one as a kid, the toy section was hardly recognizable after I had gone through it with a red marker and drawing smiley faces (I want this pretty pretty please!)

  7. What a fun post! I used to look through catalogs with my sister and we'd take turns choosing what we wanted. The rule: we had to choose something from every single page in the catalog. Hours we spent smooshed on our couch choosing between everything from dolls and shoes to lawnmowers and office supplies!

  8. Oh I love the old Wish Books too! I remember going to my Nanny and Pappy's house and circling what we wanted. Usually said selections would appear when we would visit them on Boxing Day. :)

  9. How cute!!
    Drop in on Tuesday - Patsy is hosting a tea party!

  10. Thanks for the link. The Wish Book was always an integral part of my Christmas season (back in the days when it didn't arrive on the doorstep in August!). By the time Christmas rolled around, the pages were dog-earned and torn and lists were revised countless times! Thanks for the memories :)

  11. oh yeah, remember pouring thru these wish books as can a young girl like u capture vintage so well? ha ha! tfs! :)

  12. I love looking through catalogs and if they're vintage, all the better! lol

  13. I always loved the Sears Wish Book. Each year my bro and I would go through it picking out all the things we wanted. Sometimes our Christmas wishes would come true. That was always great. I do miss the Christmas of my childhood at times. There was something so special about the holiday when I was a boy.

  14. I remember my mom giving us a different colored crayon each and we were supposed to circle what gifts we wanted for Christmas!

  15. Oh Jessica, you just brought a flood of fond memories back to me! I remember sitting on my grandmother's lap as a little girl pointing out all of my Christmas wishes! Like you, I didn't always get what I wished for but for me half the fun was dreaming about it all!

    I don't know if you know of JC Penny, a department store here much like Sears. I heard last week that they will be printing the very last issue of their catalog. I spent many ours dreaming and putting together my wish list for my school wardrobe! Shame that the youth of today won't have that pleasure, but instead I guess they will peruse the internet and dream just the same.

    Love and hugs sweet friend,

  16. Oooh, I love the dolls' houses, they are fabulous.

    My sister had tin bungalows when we were kids, don't know if they came as flat packs and were made up by Dad before we received them on Christmas day but they had little metals bits that pushed into slits to hold them together. I'm think an old friend of my mam's who we used call 'aunty' although not a relative bought them for us, or maybe our parents bought them. Anyway, the walls were prepainted with fireplace, paintings etc and we had plastic furniture to go in them. This was back in the 1960s. We had lots of fun with them.

  17. A couple of years back I wall papered and carpeted a doll's house for a friend's granddaughter, not a child, she's in her 20s, but had always wanted a doll's house so bought it herself. She has special needs so is not good with her hands and that's why I ended up decorating the house for her - it was such good fun to do. Just wish she would get around to buying some lighting for it so I could wire it up for her and see it all lit in its full splendour.

    I'm a big kid at heart.

  18. I loved this trip down memory lane. Not only a vintage one, but one that most of us can personally recall as well. I believe JC Penny still puts out a holiday catalogue; I've bought a few as an adult (heh) just for the sheer joy of looking at the toys and pretending I was a kid again, choosing my Christmas list. *sheepish grin* Thanks for sharing that website!

  19. Happy Wednesday afternoon greetings, wonderful dears! Thank you each for your lovely comments, I sincerely enjoyed reading about your recollections of the Sears Wish Book (and other catalogues like those of JC Penny), thank you for taking the time to share them with me.

    May all that you each wish this year come true for you this holiday season, my sweet friends!
    ♥ Jessica

  20. Happy Christmas Jessica,

    I really do think that clothing and toys were was more exciting in the 40s and 50s. I love that dollhouse, with all of its homey details, way beyond any pink barbie type dollhouse of today. It seems that only the Victorian versions have the exquisite details that draw me in. Someone should come out with a 1940s dollhouse replica.

    I never new about this fantastic website you have shared, and here it is already 2015 - 6 years after you posted it! I clicked on the link and found that, thankfully, it is not too late to enjoy.

    I have sections of at least two 1940s catalogs. One I know was from 1947 because it had the cover. I thought the other was from perhaps 1948, but I found the same pages that I have in the 1945 Christmas catalog. Years ago, my sister found the catalogs in an attic of an old house she was cleaning.

    I am glad that I followed your link from today's post to your happy 2009 Christmas and found this fascinating link to Christmas's past.

    Have a happy and warm Saturday!

    1. Thank you so much, lovely Hope. I try to revisit that site at least once a year and am so happy to see that they're still online, too.

      Very, very true about clothing and toys of the mid-century. Honestly, I'd even say that a great deal of items made during my 1980s and 90s (particularly the early 90s) youth were substantially better made (and more interesting) than those today. With each passing year, I buy fewer and fewer new items, and not just because I adore vintage, but (often) because it gets harder to find good quality pieces at reasonable prices any more.

      How wonderful that you have parts of at least two 1940s catalogs. It's great that your sister found, and you gave a new home to, them. I don't own any vintage Wish Books myself, but the search for one will always continue (I do have other, non-Christmas vintage catalogs though and they're certainly marvelous in their own right).

      Thank you for clicking through and enjoying this fun post from six Christmas seasons past. How quickly time flies!

      Big hugs & joyful holiday season wishes,
      ♥ Jessica

  21. I just want to know what the Christmas sears wishbooks mascot is gona be for Dec 25th 2017??