This 1892 catalogue

In contrast to the numerous patents held by Mesker Brothers (Bernard and Frank), there were no patents found to have been issued to George L. Mesker & Co. But the iron works did apply for at least one. The company’s 1892 catalog featured an ingenious yet simple method of choosing facade designs. The pages showing multiple story designs (5 through 20) were perforated between the upper and lower stories. This allowed a customer to form various combinations by bringing different upper and lower halves of pages together. Hence, the upper stories and storefronts were numbered differently for ordering purposes (e.g., storefront #805 with upper story #631).

So how effective was the catalog in terms of presenting combinations and saving space? The various individual designs could be combined for a total of 320 different facade designs utilizing only 16 catalog pages to accomplish the feat. Otherwise, without the perforations and retaining the same rendering size it would have taken 192 pages to present the same number of possibilities. That’s a significant reduction in publication costs, without sacrificing presentation. An owner could begin the selection process by choosing the storefront design with the appropriate number of doors, location, etc., and combining it with the 16 possible upper stories (not all storefronts and upper stories are compatible – odd pages feature buildings of typical width while even pages have wider double-lot edifices). The choice would not have been easy and even so customization was frequent, as in the example from Lewistown, Illinois, at the bottom of the post.

According to the catalog, a patent was applied for this presentation method but its subsequent abandonment in later catalogs meant that the company most likely did not receive it. Or perhaps customers found this clever and space-saving technique cumbersome or confusing while on the other hand adding more predetermined combinations allowed for catalog heft and more substantial presentation on par with the competition. Regardless of its obscurity, this was nonetheless a clever device that illustrates the Meskers’ emphasis on the catalog as a design and ordering tool which placed them at the forefront of ornamental sheet-metal facade manufacture and distribution.

The catalog can be viewed in the Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library’s digital archive here.

Cover of the 1892 catalog. Image courtesy of David Mesker.
Inside cover of the catalog with information about the new factory building and the inventive design of “this catalogue” for which a patent was applied. Image courtesy of David Mesker.
Only a few pages in the 1892 George L. Mesker & Co. catalog were printed without the perforation that allowed the mixing and matching of designs from various pages. Image courtesy of David Mesker.
Pages 5 through 20 were perforated.
Pages 5 through 20 were perforated between the upper and lower stories, allowing a customer to form various combinations by bringing different upper and lower halves of pages together.
294 N. Main St., Lewistown, Illinois. Example of a facade ordered from the 1892 catalog. The storefront appears to be design no. 807 or 810 (loss of millwork prevents an exact match) and the upper story is a cross between designs 625 and 626. Even with hundreds of possibilities that the catalog offered, most facades were still customized to owner needs and wishes.

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