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 - at shorter intervals - fashion and hairstyles represent their respective times, everyday objects in their type and design also become material witnesses of a past culture at some point. In this respect, historical mail-order catalogs are not just repositories of consumer history: they record what people surrounded themselves with and what they used, they show what the things around them had to look like according to general taste. Historical catalogs offer a comprehensive picture of the material culture of their time (and sometimes they also show that in some things it was more quality-conscious and tasteful than ours).

    Full-range suppliers in the USA and specialists in Germany.

    Mail order catalogs have been around since the 1970s. The mail order business itself is much older, but initially worked mainly with newspaper advertisements. Both the long-distance trade advertised in newspapers and the 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 easiest method for the widely scattered farmers to obtain consumer goods. After the introduction of parcel post in the USA, the massive product catalogs of Sears in Chicago, for example, which ran to well over 700 pages, achieved print runs of up to 15 million copies and reflected the needs and tastes of their time so accurately that reprints of certain years are still 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. Things were different in Germany. Here, the mail order business with its comprehensive range of products across all product areas only really came to prominence in the 1950s and 1960s. The mail-order catalogs of the early years, on the other hand, were specialty catalogs - especially for doctors and pharmacists.

    From Tuttlingen all over the world: medical technology.

    One of the most important of these was Mich. Birk from Tuttlingen. The company started out 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. Medical technology was supplied to countries near and far, and branches were even established in South America. Catalogs in four languages showed doctors and pharmacists what German medical technology had to offer - especially in the home town of Tuttlingen, which was already a medical technology center with a great reputation at the time. This meant that 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 find out about the most modern medical technology of the time. The special catalogs of Mich. Birk's special catalogs offer an extremely interesting fund of medical-historical information. The medical specialist will recognize much of it: They are the forerunners of the instruments he holds in his hands every day, some of them perhaps unchanged since that time. The sheer number of objects presented is astonishing; the catalog includes the basic tools of all the specialist disciplines of the time, and the range for dentistry alone fills 80 pages. However, Birk not only offered small medical tools, but also sent man-sized sterilization apparatus, operating tables and dentist's chairs across the Atlantic.

    Showing and demonstrating.

    The effort involved in producing such a catalog must have been gigantic; thousands and thousands of drawings had to be made. Birk showed his range in detail and often in original size. A double page, for example, was filled with pear syringes of the same shape but different sizes. This allowed the customer to measure by hand which one was best suited for his purposes. Images and text are strictly separated; the upper part of the catalog pages is filled with lavish illustrations, the lower part with the catalog text, which is mostly limited to a list of dimensions and designations - after all, it was aimed at a specialist audience.

    Not a reprint. An original.

    The extraordinary thing about these catalogs is that they are original copies. They were found on the historic factory premises of Mich. Birk, packed tightly together in heavy wooden crates and protected from light, heat and humidity more by chance than by design. In this way they were able to survive their slumber undamaged and appear almost fresh from the press. This is the fourth Birk catalog; the fact that it must have been produced around 1913 is evident from a number of date stamps in it that refer to this 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 using numerous samples - in elaborate color printing and in some cases with individual labels carefully glued in by hand. The latter, however, are not complete in our samples.

    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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