Hot on the Web
Lost in Cyberspace
Online San Diego
Feature Articles
Book Reviews and Reading Diary
Music Reviews
Favorite quotates
Contact Me

Hot on the Web

Where did all the catalogs go?

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on July 7, 2006
(Issue 2427, Advanced Digital Photography)

Clearing out my magazine rack the other day, I came across some old specialty catalogs I'd hung onto because they had such cool stuff in them.

The Mo Hotta - Mo Betta was a particular fave. Hot sauces from around the world, plus all kinds of chili-pepper items: t-shirts, hats, aprons, books, calendars.

The Vermont Country Store was another keeper. And the U.S. Cavalry store. Hickory Farms. Omaha Steaks. Harry & David's fruit of the month. Edmund Scientifics.

Growing up, getting the catalogs was always a late-summer treat as they began arriving an anticipation of the Christmas shopping season. My brothers and sisters and I could sit for hours looking at things we didn't need and couldn't afford.

And I still look forward to getting some of these catalogs – but if you don't buy from them, you soon get dropped and don't get a catalog the next year.

Besides, these specialty catalogs really are useful at finding unique gifts for birthdays and other occasions throughout the year.

But as mentioned, I don't always shop from them, and so I don't have current copies of a lot of them anymore.

Fortunately, the companies that publish the catalogs all have Web sites now with online shopping.

And the Web servers don't care if you've shopped there before or not.

A quick rundown

Mo Hotta – Mo Betta
If you like your food spicy and hot, then you'll bookmark this page. In addition to all the cool stuff mentioned above, they have a hot sauce of the month club, recipe books and gift baskets. Oh, and there's a link to request a catalog – very nice!

Hickory Farms
Originally known as Hickory Farms of Ohio, the name is shortened these days – although the company is still based in Ohio. And they still sell those great big (and smaller, too) gift boxes full of sausages and cheeses that make you hungry just looking at the pictures. Oh, then there are their "fill in the blank" of the month clubs: cheese, fresh fruit, steak, coffee, dessert, cheese. A big wow factor on this site.

U.S. Cavalry
It's like a military surplus store online. Except that a lot of the gear is actually new (and priced like it). But if you're into camping, hunting or paintballing, this store is a definite bookmark. Backpacks, tents, knives, boots, bedrolls, flashlights, camouflage clothing – it's a guy's dream store!

Vermont Country Store
We've written about this site before – it's like a time machine, going back to your grandmother's catalogs. I've no idea where they even find this stuff they sell, but they've got soaps that haven't been popular in 30 years, candies your parents ate as kids, 1950's style patio furniture. This is all new stuff, too – still (miraculously) manufactured. And they even carry Charles Chips – although the Charles Chips truck won't be delivering them this time.

Harry & David
As a kid, I hated pears. Not sure why, looking back – it's a rather inoffensive fruit. But even I loved the pears they would picture in the Harry & David catalogue. Whatever apple Eve took off the tree in the Garden of Eden, it couldn't possibly have looked any more appealing than the ones on the Harry & David Web site. They have fruit baskets in every shape and price range, and it all looks absolutely succulent.

Omaha Steaks
One year, my uncle got my mom some steaks from Omaha Steaks – he was living in Omaha at the time, so it made some sense. It was her birthday present, I think, and arrived in the mail in some big foil wrapping in a small shipping styrofoam cooler. It was her steak, and we kids weren't allowed to bum any off her – Dad's orders – but I still remember thinking it smelled better than any steak I'd ever encountered. And they still have their steak of the month club – is this a great country or what?

Edmund Scientifics
This may have been my favorite catalog of them all as a kid – microscopes and telescopes and all kinds of very cool scientific gear for conducting home experiments. I don't know that I ever actually was able to buy anything from them, but I sure spent many a happy hour perusing their catalogs. Which you can still do – they have a link where you can order your free catalog.

Sort of a catalog

For most of the 1980s and '90s, there was this great publication called Factsheet 5 that was the place for following the underground and alternative press. It was the same size as ComputorEdge's print edition – 8.5 x 11, printed on the same newsprint, and about 80-100 pages per issue. It was jam-packed with reviews and contact info for every small literary, political, philosophical and other kind of non-mainstream publication you could think of.

If you started your own alt 'zine, you immediately sent a copy to Factsheet 5 to get included in the next issue – it was how you marked the fact that you had arrived on the alt scene. Conservative, liberal, anarchist – it didn't matter. Factsheet 5 was the Bible.

The magazine has been defunct for awhile, and of course a fair guess would be that the advent of the World Wide Web and the absolute explosion of online 'zines made Factsheet 5 obsolete.

And yet the Factsheet 5 Web site indicates the publishers will resume the print version later this year. You'd think an online version would be more serviceable (not to mention cheaper, as printing up all those copies must cost a fortune), but in the meantime, there is a weekly Factsheet 5 zine e-mail newsletter you can subscribe to for free.