A (very) short history of mail order

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Shopping from the comfort of your own home still feels like a new thing. Which is bizarre when you think that the first mail order catalogue, selling scientific and academic books, was reputedly produced by Benjamin Franklin in 1744.

The real pioneer in the field, however, was Aaron Montgomery Ward. He produced his first catalogue in Chicago in 1872, a single 8” x 12“ sheet of paper comprising 163 products, their prices and how to order. Within two decades the catalogue had grown to 540 illustrated pages listing over 20,000 different products.

Mail order hasn’t looked back since.


Home delivery

Since those early days, there’s very little, if anything, that hasn’t been sold by mail order, from exotic plants and packaging materials to frozen fish. Between 1921 and 1932, Montgomery Ward even sold prefabricated kit houses by mail order; their returns policy is not recorded.

In the UK, popular mail order catalogues included Littlewoods, Janet Frazer, Burlington and Freeman – although did you know that the first three of these (plus Peter Craig and John Moores) were all owned by Littlewoods and for many years were exactly the same catalogue, just with different covers!

Outside of the big catalogue companies, most items were marketed and sold by small operators and were usually advertised in specialist magazines, often with the accompanying polite request to ‘please allow 28 days for delivery’.


Mailing mail order orders

In many ways things aren’t that different today; every online trader is, to all intents and purposes, running a mail order business (ie someone places an order and it gets mailed to them!). It’s all just happening a lot quicker – imagine asking today’s shoppers to wait the best part of a month for their purchases!

Davpack is also a mail order company, and one of our biggest areas is supplying what mail order companies need to mail their orders. To that end, we have a huge range of postal boxes, postal bags, book boxes, Jiffy bags and board envelopes, which we buy in vast quantities so we can keep our prices low and our stock levels high. And instead of waiting 28 days for delivery, many of our customers receive their orders the very next day!

Of course, if you’re in the business of mail order houses, we probably won’t have big enough postal boxes on the shelf, so it might take just a little longer.

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Dave Smith

With a background that has included spells in marketing and editorial management in the publishing and performing arts industries, Dave is now a valued member of Davpack’s marketing team, where he is our lead blogger and senior copywriter. Still relatively new to the business, he will be aiming to look at the world of cardboard boxes and packaging materials from a slightly different angle to the usual. Davpack

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