The Trade Literature Collection

Museum Victoria houses a large and diverse collection of trade literature. For the purpose of the collection, the term ‘trade literature’ refers to any paper-based printed material produced for promoting technological products, and the processes and companies that manufacture them. The collection includes sales and publicity brochures, catalogues, operator repair manuals, accessories and parts lists.

The Trade Literature Collection is an important resource for understanding how manufactured items were intended to be used. The written material catalogues the changing face of industrial technology, social tastes and dreams of a future lifestyle. Trade literature also acts as a reminder that most manufactured items, however small or mundane, required careful design and mastery of materials for their creation.

Museum Victoria collects trade literature for study and research. The collection also complements the museum’s holdings of historical artefacts and now contains more than 34 000 items. Trade material is normally acquired by donation from companies, personal estates and private collectors.

The first item in the trade literature collection was obtained by Museum Victoria in 1860, and holdings extend from that period to material from contemporary companies in Australia and overseas.

The making of rural Australia

A large section of trade literature relates to agricultural machinery manufactured in Australia and overseas. Material from leading Australian firms such as H.V. McKay Pty Ltd assists in charting the rapid growth and prosperity of the nation’s primary industries (see the H.V. McKay Information Sheet). The literature is also an important source of social history, relating to employee–employer relations and companys’ public profiles.

Advertisement from Museum Victoria’s large holding of rural trade literature

An advertisement from Museum Victoria’s large holding of rural trade literature
Source: Museum Victoria

The various phases in a product’s development can be traced through field test records, technical manuals and advertising campaigns. Items listed include irrigation equipment, harvesters, tractors and windmills as well as promotional information relating to the primary industries of meat, cane sugar, honey, wine-making and wheat.

Transport and space exploration

Many modes of transportation are mentioned in the collection. Catalogues from major international car companies feature prominently, as do design and maintenance manuals for motorbikes, trucks and shipping. Rollers and earth-moving equipment relate to major infrastructure projects such as road construction and draining works.

The collection also catalogues many aspects of air travel. Brochures from domestic and international airlines record features of planes and passenger facilities. Material from aircraft manufacturers detail engines, hydraulic systems and safety devices such as parachutes and pilot ejection seats. Aerospace and astronomical instrument companies promote satellites, telescopes and space observatories.

Company brochure for a range of batteries

A company brochure for a range of batteries
Source: Museum Victoria

Science and industry

Trade literature demonstrates the close relationship between science and manufacturing. The collection catalogues a variety of designs relating to engines, electric power systems, and equipment used for the chemical and structural analysis of buildings.

Trade manuals for laboratory equipment document experiments and advances in the fields of chemistry, biology, physics, dentistry, medicine, meteorology and pharmacy. Items listed include chemical analysis equipment, drug trial records, hearing aids, optical instruments, thermometers, dental instruments and X-ray machines.

The collection acts as a vast reference library for computer technology and its application in a range of industries. Objects catalogued include analog-to-digital converters, software, robotics and computer storage devices.

Interesting facts on everyday items

Trade literature also records the manufacturing processes behind ordinary objects found around the home. Company brochures reveal the designer’s intention, the item’s material structure and, in some instances, its mechanical or electrical operation. The collection covers a range of household subjects such as furniture, bathroom and kitchen fittings, gardening equipment, lawn mowers, fly traps, stoves and security and heating systems. The collection extends to literature on antique clocks, engravings, and other rare collectibles.

Company literature on production and editing techniques for film, photography, television, books and magazines highlight the diverse range of entertainment and leisure topics in the trade literature. Equipment manuals detail cameras, film processors and printing presses.

Visitors to the Collection

Trade literature provides a historical record of the innovative ways new products have been developed and marketed in this country, and their subsequent impact on society. It can provide important information on:

  • technical research for individual items or groups of items;
  • company histories and personal biographies;esearch for the history of technology;
  • methods of advertising and promotion to potential buyers;
  • cost of purchase and maintenance of items.

Visitors to the collection have included machinery and equipment restorers, business representatives, historians and family researchers.

Visitor Information

The Trade Literature Collection can be accessed by appointment through the Collection Management Department of Museum Victoria.

Comments (3)

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Angela Xinyu Li 21 August, 2010 10:23
I am a student from the university of Melbourne and I'm now doing a research about the trade literature relevant to house construction, so could I please have a copy of one of those literature? Thank you very much.
Discovery Centre 24 August, 2010 17:04

Hi Angela, you'll need to determine exactly which type of trade literature you're after and then apply in writing through our Collection Access page, after first reading the guidelines.

Ron Eadie 26 November, 2011 11:17
Hi, I am currently trying to restore to operating condition a Monotype Composition Caster to make printing type. Does the Museum have any of these machines? Are there any manuals or service information for the machine in your trade catalogues? Any assistance would be greatly appreciated. On a related line, does the Museum have any items associated with the Monotype machine that may be on a disposals list or is deemed surplus? Many thanks. Ron
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