I just made my first purchase using eBay: I bought a Fall/Winter 1975 Sears catalog. (I paid $2.99 for the catalog and $13-something to have it shipped to me by FedEx.)
This catalog was issued at the start of my senior year in high school. I have decent memories of the mid-70s. Perusing this Sears catalog confirms my sense that my recollection of those days is pretty good.
The days themselves, however, were — compared to today — not so good.
Other than the style differences, the fact most noticeable from the contents of this catalog’s 1,491 pages is what the catalog doesn’t contain. The Sears customer in 1975 found no CD players for either home or car; no DVD or VHS players; no cell phones; no televisions with remote controls or flat-screens; no personal computers or video games; no food processors; no digital cameras or camcorders; no spandex clothing; no down comforters (only comforters filled with polyester).
Of course, some of what was available to Sears’ customers in 1975 is also quite noticeable to those of us looking back from 2006: typewriters, turntables for stereo systems, 8-track players, black-and-white television sets. And lots and lots of clothing and bedding made from polyester.
The lowest-priced electronic calculator available in this catalog set the citizen of 1975 back $13.88 – it had a whooping six digits of display and could add, subtract, multiply, and divide.
Also available were microwave ovens, ranging in price from $189.95 to $439.95.
Of course, there’s been a good deal of dollar inflation since 1975. Judged by changes in the consumer-price index, what $100 bought in 1975 takes about $354 to buy today. So that six-digit calculator would today cost about $49. Sears lowest-priced microwave oven in 1975 would today set you back $672.
Here are some other 1975 products and their 1975 prices (along with their inflation-adjusted 2006 prices):
Sears Best kitchen range, $589.95 ($2,088).
Sears Best television, $749.95 ($2,655)
Sears Best black and white television, $137.95 ($488)
Sears Best typewriter, $278.99 ($988)
Sears Best motion-picture camera (no sound; but it did have 8X zoom!), $197.00 ($697)
Sears lowest-cost telephone answering machine, $99.50 ($352)
Sears highest-priced tent for four adults, $84.88 ($300)
But inflation is difficult to calculate. In a later post, I’ll take a page from the work of Michael Cox and Richard Alm and ask: how many hours did the American production worker have to work in 1975 to buy things from the Sears catalog? And how many hours must the average production worker today work if he were to buy 2006 versions of these things?