The BUTLER BROTHERS
Inventors of the mail-order catalog and the 5 &
860 Broadway at 17th Street
(They also had stores in Chicago and Baltimore)
We owe a HUGE debt of gratitude to Craig
Schenning of Schenning Antiques who very generously provided 5 of the six years
shown here. Among other things, Craig collects , reproduces
and makes available quite a large selection of old catalogs of "Rosetta Stone"
value to collectors of toys, trains, Christmas, dolls, and a hundred other
As I leaf through these multi-hundred page marvels, I am taken back to the
commonplace objects of everyday life - 1930's in every category. It's like a
Sears or Wards, but all the stuff is sold wholesale and by
the dozens,- except for the largest things.
This is where the stores bought what they sold to you. Furniture, appliances,
tools, utensils, toys, trains,guns, persperation shields (ever hear of those?)..... Everything! And it appears that ordinary
folks could buy from them, too. I had never heard of the Butler Brothers prior
to these researches, but they must have been a household word up and down the
Eastern Seaboard prior to The War.
1930 - 1931
I have a December 1930 Butler Brothers. It has the lights and ornaments and artificial
trees, but no cardboard houses. It may be there were some listed in an earlier month,
but I don't know. I have not yet seen a 1931 and so don't know about that year,either,
but we've struck real "paydirt" in .....
"Our Drummer" for FALL & WINTER 1933
"National Distributors of General Merchandise"
"One price to all under like conditions"
This edition of the Butler Bros Catalog contained more than 50 fabulous pages of
toys, trains, dolls, and holiday stuff for Halloween and Christmas - stuff to
drive a hundred kinds of collectors crazy. Much as I would love to, there is no
way I can do the whole thing here, (order from Craig Schenning) so I'll stick to
the best reference I've ever found on the larger Christmas houses. Bottom of
page 69 ....
Starting to see anything that looks familiar?
Note that these are the big ones, and that you got a dozen assorted.
No real control over that.
Here they only illustrate two. I would LOVE to see the rest of them! And
there is nothing indicated to limit the varieties to just 12;
there could have been many more than a dozen different types. The store owner got
what he got and put them out to sell.
Hmmmm ... ?
These are their medium-sized offerings, but still they're full box-based - about
what we would consider the "standard" size.
And, finally - their tiny sizes with the flatcard base. Note that ALL
these prices are for a DOZEN! That's 3 cents apiece on these ...
I can't resist; - I'm going on ....
Until now, I had thought that the feather trees
with these square,
hollow, white decal bases were POSTwar, and that PREwar "feathers"
had turned wooden "tub" bases. But it's obviously not so..
I found many other things that went back much further than I'd thought,
1934 - 1935
I haven't found these years. I surely hope I can.
I have a suspicion that 1934 will be just about the peak year,
or prove that 1933 was. 1935, I think, is the big debut of the
"Haciendas," and that's one we all would like to see.
1935 - Found!!
New for Jan.,2009!
At least we think it's 1935. Rita Dubas, a designer from Brooklyn
and a big Butler Brothers fan, sent me one very fragile page from what she
believes to be from a Dec. 1935 catalog. I haven't done the full page because
everything else is much the same as the other years - just this close-up on the
houses being offered. I'm not sure. Was I right? Is this the debut of the
"Haciendas?"? I can see some elements - the jagged outline of the
roof paint on one, but these don't really look like "Haciendas"
Note that for the first time we are looking at an actual photograph
here. It's at just about this time that all the mail-order catalogs began to
replace the old engravings with them.
Butler Brothers November 1937:
By 1936 and 1937 we are seeing all HACIENDAS,
which bears up
pretty much perfectly with the information gleaned from "THE CHICAGO DATES."
Butler Brothers Fall and Holiday 1938:
Not much difference from 1937, but it is evident the houses are
growing smaller and less complicated year-by-year, the selection growing smaller
, too. We do note the appearance of those German "Willow" stick fences that turn
up so frequently - and the little glass-candled"Glow-Lite" table trees.
I am missing these three years as well. I'm not too
concerned with 1939. I don't expect there would be any real news
on 1938. I have a '39 Ward's Christmas Wishbook, and there are no houses
in it. 1939 seems to be a sinker year for houses. Probably 1940 as well.
I would like to check out 1941, however. The catalogs would have been printed and
sent out by Dec.7. My main interest in this period is when the transition
from Japanese to American ( Dolly Toy Co. and Colmor) took place.
Butler Brothers Holiday 1942-1943:
Making quite a skip to 1942: We are a full year into The War
by this time, and everything is now 100% American: - DOLLY TOY CO. and
I really wish I could see what happened in 1931, 1934, 1935 and 1941! If anyone
has catalogs of any company with old Christmas houses in them, we all would
certainly like to see them!