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Collecting Mail-order History at the Culture Division, City of Toronto
by Elisabeth Joy

The City of Toronto's Culture Division is responsible for the ongoing acquisition, care, research, and interpretation of art works and objects that are part of the Toronto's heritage. The collection has grown to over 100,000 historical objects and close to a million archaeological objects since it was started in 1881. The range of objects is as diverse and fascinating as the history of Toronto itself.

The Historical Collection is composed of several important distinct collections, also called fonds and sub-collections. Mail-order related objects and archival material are found in several of them, most notably:

  • The T. Eaton Company Collection (1988.56) of 1763 objects was donated to the City in 1988 by the T. Eaton Company. This collection holds spectacular objects such as the original architect's design model for Eaton's College Street store and Toronto's first fire alarm telegraph, as well as many objects from the catalogues.
  • The Morris Norman (1996.18) and Larry Becker Collections (2000.5) are two of the largest and most valuable private collections of historical Toronto material donated to the City. One can find many objects and archival documents related to the history of mail order and retail companies that operated in Toronto.

Below are a few examples of objects related to the mail-order business that can be found in the City of Toronto's Historical Collection:

  Delivery van model, 1934  

Enlarge image.Delivery van model with license plate "Ontario 1934," made for the 50th anniversary of Eaton's mail-order business. Wood, painted blue and red; Eaton diamond painted on door; bumpers made from chrome metal.



  Eaton's delivery man's cap  

Enlarge image.Eaton's delivery man's cap; navy wool with black patent visor.

  White mercerized mull cotton wedding 
dress with torchon insertion  

Enlarge image.White mercerized mull cotton wedding dress with torchon insertion, 1911. The label says: "The T. Eaton Co. Limited Toronto Winnipeg No. 89516 Size 18."



  Four-piece men's suit with jacket, vest, two pair of trousers  

Enlarge image.Four-piece men's suit with jacket, vest, two pair of trousers made from black wool cloth, with the label, "The T. Eaton Co. Limited Toronto and Winnipeg." Eaton's Winnipeg Catalogue, 1906, style #130, p. 3.



  Light blue wedding dress  

Enlarge image.Light blue wedding dress covered with pale blue lace net, 1954.

  Matching shoes and gloves  

Enlarge image.Matching shoes and gloves, worn with 1954 wedding dress.

  Magic kit developed during the 1940s by John Giordmaine  

Enlarge image.Magic kit developed during the 1940s by John Giordmaine who worked at Eaton's toy department in Toronto, performing magic tricks for children. Magic was a respectable society entertainment in early 1900s Toronto, providing entertainment as well as education in a social setting.



  Wagon with the stencils Fleetwing and Eatonia  

Enlarge image.Wagon with the stencils "Fleetwing" and "Eatonia"; sold with attachable sleigh runners. The handle is missing.

  Ruth, the Eaton Beauty for 1910  

Enlarge image.Ruth is the Eaton Beauty for 1910, and was made by Cuno & Otto Dressel, Germany. Bisque head, fully ball jointed composition body; replaced wig, redressed in old clothing.

  Eva, the Eaton Beauty for 1926  

Enlarge image.Eva is the Eaton Beauty for 1926, and was made by Armand Marseille, Germany. Bisque head, model 390, fully ball jointed composition body; redressed in old clothing.



  Azalea, the Eaton Beauty for 1928  

Enlarge image.Azalea is the Eaton Beauty for 1928, and was made by Cuno & Otto Dressel, Germany. Bisque head, fully ball jointed composition body; original chemise and red ribbon.

  Violet, the Eaton Beauty for 1937-38  

Enlarge image.Violet is the Eaton Beauty for 1937-38, and was made by Armand Marseille, Germany. Painted bisque, model 390, five-piece papier maché body; original princess slip, socks, shoes, and red ribbon.

  Jean, the Eaton Beauty for 1963  

Enlarge image.Jean is the Eaton Beauty for 1963, and was made by the Regal Toy Co., Toronto, Ontario. Vinyl head, plastic, five-piece body; dress not original. Regal Toy Company was established in 1959 by Sol and Ben Samuels. In 1976, Regal was sold to General Mills in the United States and continued doll production in Canada without changing the Regal Toy Company name. The company was sold again in 1983 and went bankrupt the next year.




Enlarge image.TECO No. 5 De Lux Model Camera, 1914, mahogany and brass, 3 ¼ x 4 ¼-inch format, six exposure, roll fill, box camera, T. Eaton Co., stamped TECO on the leather handle, together with two mahogany photographic plates not related to camera.

  Scales and beam  

Enlarge image.Scales and beam, with parts including balancing arm, two pans, set of weights. Used by jewellers to weigh gold. Box with one-inch [2.54-cm] ivory ruler. Drawer with printed directions for setting up, and the marking H. KUHLBUSH/NEW YORK.

  Stoneware foot warmer  

Enlarge image.Stoneware foot warmer. Oblong stoneware bottle with screw-on stopper and Doulton and Eaton's markings. This model was used from 1892 to 1914.



  Electric Toaster  

Enlarge image.The Eaton Beauty Electric Toaster, as seen in Eaton's Fall/Winter Catalogue, 1920, p. 521: "An efficient toaster in every sense, highly polished nickel finish fitted with five-foot [1.5-m] cord and connecting plug. A neat appliance and very useful." Price delivered: $5:50. Model in use from 1909 to 1926.



  Meat grinder  

Enlarge image.Meat grinder, ca 1920-25; metal, wooden handle, clamps on table, and three disc blades, with the marking "Diamond E" on the side.

  Acme washing machine, Eaton's Spring 
Summer 1926, p. 367.  

Enlarge image.Acme washing machine



  Sewing machine  

Enlarge image.Foot powered Eatonia sewing machine without case; the electric motor was added at later date as well as a replacement foot treadle control switch. Black enamel finish with gilt line decoration and nickel plated parts, and markings "Eatonia" and "Made in Canada". Motor marked "Hamilton-Beach 'SEW E-Z' Motor."



  Pair of sad iron bases and handles  

Enlarge image.Pair of sad iron bases and handles, ca 1900-50.

  Shoemaker's tools  

Enlarge image.Shoemaker's tools, ca 1900, marked "The Combination Family Cobbler/Tinker & Harness Mender, "and Eaton mail-order label.



  Oil tin  

Enlarge image.Oil tin, Red Banner Motor Oil, eight quarts [7.5 l], T. Eaton Co., red and black, #69.



  Fanning mill  

Enlarge image.Fanning mill, "Eaton/Patented 1901/T. Eaton Co. /Toronto Canada," ca 1912.

  Automobile tire  

Enlarge image.Automobile tire made for Eaton's Spring/Summer Catalogue, 1930, p. 371.



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