Ooh, lovely, a Royal Doulton china catalogue, I thought as I picked this up. Then I opened it and realised that well, it’s not the sort of china you put roses in … In fact, it’s called a Catalogue of selected sanitary appliances for general use. But if you want to know what bathrooms looked like in 1916, this will show you.
Some of the terminology has changed since 1916: I was rather baffled by the pictures of “lavatories” until I realised that in 1916 a lavatory was what we’d now call a wash basin or sink. The catalogue is useful partly because it has a range of bathroom stuff, from the upmarket bathroom pictured above to the factory toilets here:
There’s also a price list: the bathroom fittings in the first picture would have cost a total of £32 in 1916, whereas the factory toilets cost £11. The most expensive item in the catalogue is a ‘combined spray and plunge bath with canopy’, which has an alarming number of pipes and cost £57. The most striking image in the book, however, is the Royal Doulton London factory on the riverside at Lambeth, a palatial building with a spectacular free-standing chimney at one side. Part of the building still stands, on Black Prince road.
Another catalogue with potential for horror was this ‘Illustrated catalogue of dentists’ equipment”. I never find I can relax in a modern dentist’s chair, but these pictures show a chair that looks very uncomfortable. The catalogue includes ‘mouth hygiene mottoes” to display in the surgery such as “A tooth in the head is worth ten on the plate” Oh dear. The only light relief is a picture of the dentist in his little car driving from village to village. But for real horror, consider this (stop reading now if you’re delicate minded) The dental overall is not to keep the child clean but to keep the dentist from catching lice from the child.
These catalogues are amazing and it’s surprising we have them as they were never really ‘published’ like books. Another of my favourites is a paint chart featuring “Three hundred shades & how to mix them : for architects, decorators, painters” (1907.12.122) There are bulb catalogues, and even stationery catalogues including samples. Browsing through them is the safest kind of window shopping I can imagine.