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Before Amazon: Mail Order in Appalachia

A virtual exhibit exploring mail order in Appalachia through the Artifacts in the Appalachian Artifacts Teaching Collection

In rural Appalachia, like all of rural America, the advent of mail order shopping was hugely impactful.  Evidence is found in the array of things people owned and used—the material culture of Appalachia.  Below is a selection of mail order objects found in our Appalachian Artifacts Teaching Collection.

"Supertone" Guitar

Mail order dramatically increased the presence of mass-produced musical instruments in Appalachia. This is reported to be the first mail order guitar to arrive in Gilmer Co., in Appalachian north Georgia, during the early 1900s.  It is artifact number 1976.11.16 in the Si & Kathy Kahn Instrument Collection.

From the 1923 Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalogue:

1lb Spaulding "Indian" Clubs

Exercise using Indian clubs emerged in American and Europe as a part of the late 19th century physical training movement.  People learned individual and group routines using the clubs, much like kettle bell or bumbell workouts of the present.  Educators in Appalachia introduced Indian club exercise as a part of progressive education.  These Indian clubs were used at Berea College, Berea, Kentucky, from about 1880 to 1910.  They are artifact numbers 1995.22.6 & 7 in the Berea College History Artifact Collection.  The illustration is from Dick's Bumbell and Indian-Club Exercises (1887) by William B. Dick. 


From the 1895 Montgomery Ward & Co. catalogue:

"Holmes" Stereoscope

Stereoscopes were an early from of visual entertainment and educational media.  This Holmes-type stereoscope was invented in 1861 and was the most common type until about 1940.   Stereoviews were put into the stereoscope to create apparent 3-D images.  This stereoscope is from an unknown household in the eastern Kentucky.  The stereoview of the moon was used in astronomy education at Berea College during 1880-1920.   This stereoscope is artifact number 1995.20.1 in the collections.

From the 1908 Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalogue: