Christmas gifts

Barrows Stores, Birmingham, 1939 catalogue

Whilst everyone drives themselves silly chasing Christmas, Shelf Appeal chases Christmas past. I love old catalogues, not the big beefy hard to lift kind but the small decorated hard to resist kind.

Barrow’s Stores in Birmingham printed some really lovely things in the first half of the last century, especially at Christmas. Mr Bawden turned his pen for them but I haven’t been lucky enough to purchase any of those. I do have a few more anonymous though no less interesting items, including this booklet from The Gifts China & Glass Department.

This booklet is a classic Curwen Press production, I’m sure. The paper, the printing, the decorations, the colours – all shriek of Curwen. It’s a nice format, a square, folded over. I think it is from Christmas 1939. Firstly because of the text “Don’t Economise this Christmas. Prices are still almost normal.” And secondly because in the lovely little vignette of Ambrose Heath’s food books (in the spread pictured below) is his book ‘Open Sesame: The Way of a Cook With a Can’, published that very year.

There are three pages of yellow paper on each side, covered in lovely illustrations and lists of Christmas goodies to buy. The present categories are very much in the style of a previously posted Heal’s Christmas catalogue: For Handy Children, Boy’s Toys, Toddler’s Toys, In Bed, Good Baskets, Swedish Flower Pots. And an intriguing category Friendly Aliens, consisting of more pots, tableware and objects. The expression ‘Friendly Aliens’ was used for refugees from Nazism. Quite frankly I am a bit flummoxed as to what it means in this context, as the products don’t seem to hail from a specific country or designer.

Four pages of photographs of very tasteful presents make up the middle section of the booklet. Whitefriars and Orrefors glass spread across two and then the centre page is a double spread of glorious children’s books.

It all makes me hum with graphic pleasure.

Barrows Stores, Birmingham, 1939 catalogue spread



I was hoping for a choice piece of festive ephemera from Shelf Appeal, and of course you delivered. Merry Christmas.

colin tompkins

thanks for the info…my grandfather worked at barrows i have some old photos and i am just starting to research the store he worked in .. i think from 1900s to retirement ..thsnks colin

colin tompkins

hi thanks…its all a bit new this media…but the photos are very old and i am trying to get them digitaly enhanced. they are possibly 100 years old but would like to sort them …thanks

Irene Mulvale

I worked at the new store for about 18 months from Nov 1966 to Aug 1968,started in the cash office,wow what a fantastic place to work,I believe the staff manager was Mrs Whitehouse,a lovely lady,I moved to the floristry department and worked with Diane,my name was Irene Thornton,we wore really smart uniforms,I loved the smell of the coffee dept,it was second to none,I met a young man a student there we were together for 7 years,,an american company took it over and closed the floristry del over night,awful for Diane,I let to go to Walter Austin,Lewis’s then Birmingham incorporated building society for 5 years,I know live in Padstow with my hubby of 40 years.

Elizabeth Clarke

My late mother, Beryl Wood, worked in the China & Glass department at Barrows in the 1950’s. She worked with Bill Briggs. She also worked at their showroom in Auchinleck Square. She loved her job.


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