The roots of the firm Reed & Barton in Taunton, Massachusetts, go back to several ownerships starting in 1824, and by 1840 the firm of the silversmiths Reed & Barton was firmly established. They created high quality goods that could compete with European and British silversmithing. They achieved success as both a manufacturer and marketer of fine tableware and giftware products that are renowned for their outstanding design and exceptional craftsmanship.
Reed & Barton was a pioneer in silver plating in the 1850’s and when the famous Comstock lode of silver was discovered in Nevada in the 1870’s, silver became more widely available, greatly increasing the manufacture and accessibility of sterling silver and silver-like tableware for many American families. Reed & Barton took advantage of the new technology of electroplating, which deposits a thin layer of silver or gold over the surface of an object made of a less expensive base metal, which made goods of silver or gold accessible to the growing American middle class.
This trade catalog has beautifully engraved illustrations, with some chromolithographic color plates, mainly of objects for the Victorian table. Ninety different categories of products are listed in the Front Index, and the catalogue contains 2,300 gold and silver items, both in sterling, silverplate and gold plate. The objects depicted are mostly in the highly ornate Victorian style, but also show examples of the stylistic trends toward Japonisme and the Aesthetic movement.
Trade catalogs are an important source for the history of business, technology, marketing, consumption, and design. Manufacturers issued trade catalogs to promote and sell their products, and they have become valuable research tools because they are often the primary or only source that documents products and design from a given time or place. Published in 1884, at the height of the Victorian era, this trade catalog illustrates the styles and taste of an important era in American history and culture, the material culture of that time, and gives us a glimpse of the dining and entertaining customs, and growing consumerism of the period. This catalog is especially useful in that every object and plate number is identified, indexed and has a price list, which today allows researchers to identify Reed & Barton products.