Mail order catalogues came into vogue in the late 19th century. In 1872 Montgomery Ward started the first mail order business. Aaron Montgomery Ward started out as a traveling salesman working in many rural areas. He believed that the rural customer wanted what the city customers had but they had no guarantee of quality. He decided he could take the orders and have them delivered to the nearest train station. His first catalog was a single sheet of paper with the price list of 163 items. By 1875 he had a money back guarantee and a growing catalog.
By 1883 he had 10,00 items in the catalog.
By 1896 Ward had serious competition from Sears & Roebuck.
And by the end of the century Wards sales were $8.7 million.
There's no question Aaron Montgomery Ward had a huge impact on the 19th century. Today, we historical fiction writers use his catalogs for pricing of items, fashion design, etc. All to help us understand what our characters from this time period were looking experiencing.
1875 Montgomery Ward Catalog Online