Trossinger Kartonagenfabrik Michael Birk GmbH & Co

Mich. Birk Catalog No. 4

Trossinger Kartonagenfabrik Michael Birk GmbH & Co
Mich. Birk Catalog No. 4
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    General Information

    The catalog as a picture book of material culture.

    Just as architectural and artistic styles, or even - then at shorter intervals - fashion and hairstyles, represent their respective times, so do everyday objects, in their nature and design, at some point become material witnesses of a past culture. In this respect, historical mail-order catalogs are not just consumer history treasure troves: they record what people surrounded themselves with and what they used; they show how the things around them were supposed to look in accordance with general taste. Historical catalogs offer a comprehensive picture arc of the material culture of their time (and sometimes they also show that this was in some things more quality-conscious and tasteful than ours).

    Full-line catalogs in the U.S. and specialists in Germany.

    Mail-order catalogs have been around since the 1970s. Mail order itself is much older, but initially worked primarily with advertising newspaper ads. Both newspaper-advertised long-distance trade and catalog trade in the narrower sense are of American origin, which is easy to understand given the vastness of the North American land mass: it was the simplest method for the widely scattered farmers to supply themselves with consumer goods. After the introduction of parcel post in the U.S., the massive catalogs of goods from Sears in Chicago, for example, which ran to well over 700 pages, reached circulation figures of up to 15 million copies and so accurately reflected the needs and tastes of their time that reprints of certain volumes are still sometimes published today for historically interested readers. The 1920s are considered the golden years of the American mail order business; then the automobile age dawned, and the mail order giant Sears increasingly relied on retail stores and supermarkets. In Germany, things were different. Here, mail order with a comprehensive range of products across all merchandise categories did not really come into its own until the 1950s and 1960s. The mail-order catalogs of the early years, on the other hand, were special catalogs - especially for doctors and pharmacists.

    From Tuttlingen to all corners of the world: medical technology.

    One of the significant ones among them was Mich. Birk from Tuttlingen. The company had started with cardboard boxes and shipping packaging. At the beginning of the 20th century, however, and in the period between the world wars, Birk was a "global player". The company supplied medical technology to foreign countries near and far, and even established branches in South America. Catalogs in four languages showed the doctor or pharmacist what German medical technology had to offer - especially in the home town of Tuttlingen, already at that time a medical technology center with great charisma. Thus, the doctor on the Rio Bravo or the pharmacist in the Andes could order syringes and scalpels, pipettes and tablet presses from Germany and at the same time inform himself about the most modern medical technology of his time. The special catalogs of Mich. Birk offer an extremely interesting fund of medical history information. The medical specialist will recognize much of it: They are the forerunners of the instruments he holds in his hands every day, some perhaps in a form unchanged since that time. The sheer number of items presented is astonishing; the catalog covers the basic tools of all disciplines of the time, and the range of dental instruments alone fills 80 pages. However, Birk offered not only small medical tools, but also sent man-high sterilization apparatus, operating tables and dentist chairs across the Atlantic.

    Show and demonstrate.

    The effort to create such a catalog must have been gigantic, thousands and thousands of drawings had to be made. Birk showed his offer en détail and often in original size. Pear syringes of the same shape but of different sizes alone fill a double page, for example. Thus, the customer could measure with his own hand which one was best suited for his purposes. Image and text are strictly separated; the upper part of the catalog pages fill the lush illustrations, the lower the catalog text, which is mostly - one was directed, after all, to a professional audience - limited to the listing of dimensions and designations.

    No reprint. An original.

    The extraordinary thing about these catalogs is that they are original copies. They were found on the historic factory site of Mich. Birk, packed tightly together in heavy wooden crates and protected more by chance than by plan in this way from light, heat and humidity. Thus, they were able to survive their slumber undamaged and appear almost hot off the press. This is the fourth Birk catalog; that it must have been produced around the year 1913 is evident from a number of date stamps offered in it, which refer to that year. And the question of why these copies did not find their way to customers at the time can also be answered: the actual medical range is preceded by 30 alphabetically paginated pages on which Birk presents its range of individually designed labels, prescription sheets, invoice forms and letterheads on the basis of numerous samples - in elaborate color printing and partly with individual labels carefully glued in by hand. The latter, however, are not complete in our copies.

    Product Information

    Article Number 44225

      290 double pages. Quadrilingual index on 31 pages. With countless illustrations. 29.5 x 24 cm, hardcover.
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