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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.

Wire Bustle

Wire bustles, as a part of women's fashion, were popular from about 1870 until 1890.  It was worn under the clothing and on a woman's back to extend the skirt and lift it off the floor.  This bustle was worn by Belinda (Linnie) Moss, of Williamsburg, Whitley Co., Kentucky.  Moss lived in a role constrained by the norms of society at that time and was a leader in the social life of her community.  Belinda's husband, Edwin Moss was a medical doctor, farmer, and early trustee of Cumberland College.  This bustle is artifact number 1985.4.15 in the Dr. C. A. Moss Collection.

From the 1902 Sears, Roebuck & Co. Catalogue; and an 1880s "fashion plate":


Starched Linen Shirt Cuffs

Starched linen shirt cuffs and collars, separate from the shirt, were a part of men's high fashion from about 1880 until 1920.   These were from an unknown household in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee.  They are artifact 1969.1.211 in the Edna Lynn Simms Collection.  The ad is from the 1902 Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalogue.


Practice Telegraph Equipment

Around 1905, Grady Keller of Pulaski Co., Kentucky, purchased this telegraph equipment and wired it up for practice.  He taught himself telegraphy so he could get a job as a telegraph operator on the L&N Railroad.  It is artifact number 2004.1.40 in the Keller-McDonald Collection.

From the 1902 Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalogue: