You know that website built in the 1920s?
December 9, 2009 12:39 PM   Subscribe

It's 1925. I own a General Store. The General Store has a website (obviously)... Can you describe what that website might look like? How can a visitor to that site recognize it immediately as owned by a 1925 General Store (visually)?

I'm trying to design the web site for a 1925- (or so, the specific year isn't too specific) era general store. What elements can I use, specifically, to help establish the style?

To be clear, I don't want the site to look like you're shopping in a nostalgic memory of a 1925 store (so no b/w photos of storefronts, or sepia tones, etc). Rather, the idea is that you're shopping in a store that would have been designed in 1925... Does that make sense?

Also, because I'm aiming for real 'Americana,' I'm less interested in Bauhaus or other 'avant-garde' 20s styles.

For fonts, I found this link, and other useful ones from this post.

But what about backgrounds? Wallpapers? Colors? Icons? What was the "Web 2.0" style of the 1920s?

Any points of reference would be most appreciated. (I think there could be a whole movement of era-designed web sites, even from the future!).
posted by prophetsearcher to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
For points of reference, you may want to go to a library and browse newspapers on the microfilms (or computer, if you're lucky) from that time period. You don't want the articles: you want the ADS. Fashion or house magazines from that period can be harder to track down, but will more likely have color.
posted by Weighted Companion Cube at 12:48 PM on December 9, 2009

Go to google books and do a search on "1925 catalog", filtering for only items with full preview. I found this pretty quickly. I'm sure other mail order catalogs are available in the public domain.

Also, Adobe Wood Ornaments is your friend.
posted by condour75 at 12:50 PM on December 9, 2009

What an awesome question.

To get American images of general retail you should definitely try the American Memory project at the Library of Congress. Some subsets you might find useful:

The Northern Great Plans, 1880-1920

Washington As It Was: Photographs by Theodor Horydczak, 1923-1959

The Sears Archives should have some information for you.

Finally, if you search Flickr for general store, you'll get some historic buildings with the kind of typography you're looking for.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 12:57 PM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Art Nouveau was huge then, that might give you a starting point. It actually got started much earlier in Europe, but had trickled down to America by that point.

The Arts & Crafts Movement was similar and happening at around the same time. The Prairie Style of Frank Lloyd Wright was also pretty popular.

Personally when I think of 1925 I see jewel tones mixed with warm earthy browns and gold.
posted by TooFewShoes at 12:58 PM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Make sure it loads quickly over a 20bps teletype connection?

Seconding the old-school catalogs, which often included photos of rooms full of objects, not just objects themselves. You can also mine old magazine archives: Time and Life (the older one) and other magazines of the era. Popular Mechanics has also been around since 1902 and is probably full of the kind of images you need.
posted by rokusan at 1:41 PM on December 9, 2009

For starters you'd have to lose the idea of color photography. For most of the people color film was not popularly available until the 1936's introduction of Kodachrome. Colorized black and white prints were a cheap alternative to color film.
posted by Gungho at 2:02 PM on December 9, 2009

Check out the posters from Hatch Show Prints. If you do a Google Image search for "Hatch Show Print" you'll see some examples (and there's a really cool youtube vid on the shop).
posted by kch at 2:04 PM on December 9, 2009

I would think a c. 1925 Sears and Roebucks catalogue, the Amazon of the day, would give you ideas.
posted by OHenryPacey at 2:10 PM on December 9, 2009

Check out the Cumberland General Store (Crossville, TN) website. I don't know if they are exactly 1925-era, but they specialize in a lot general store items of the '20s, '30s, and '40s. I know my great-aunt waas tickled pink when she saw their print catalog, and talked a lot about the old farm and kitchen tools and how she used them in her youth.

In recent years CGS has started using more color photos for the goods they sell, but prior to that their whole site featured artwork like this.
posted by magstheaxe at 2:30 PM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

You need to get all Tolkien on that ish.

By which I mean you need to construct a sizable and compelling back story. Is this general store established or is it a startup? Is it a single location or a chain? Where is the original store? Who were the original clientele? Who are the present clientele? Is your corporate identity based around tradition or innovation?

This is a modern logo of a company, stylized to the 1895 period.

Give more info on what this company that you own is like and we can be more helpful.
posted by jefficator at 2:34 PM on December 9, 2009

You should check out the "free documents" section on the H.P. Lovecraft Society website. They have a lot of different documents that will give you a nice feel for this time period, most of them based on actual originals.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 2:40 PM on December 9, 2009

Here's a bunch of stores from

Coke, Coffins and Caskets
Mead's Model Market
Parezo Automotive and Electrical Supply
Moundville General Store
JF Campbell Hardware
United Food Store

and this is somewhat unrelated, but I had to include it because it's such a gorgeous photo:

Weller's Pharmacy
posted by electroboy at 3:18 PM on December 9, 2009

Jefficator is right.

How you do this would depend on the area as well. A general store in Manhattan or especially Miami would have a more modern look than one in Indianapolis, generally.

It would also depend on when the store opened and who was running it. A store opened in 1885 and run by the same folks in 1925 would not have changed that much - it would probably still have a coal or wood-burning stove, wooden shelves, etc. But if the kids have taken over and modernized it or it was built in 1924 from scratch, then you are looking at a whole different thing - forced air coal heat or radiators, colors, finishes, materials, etc. This same shift in physical aesthetic would translate to your 1925 web aesthetic.

I think this idea is fantastic - but would maybe start by figuring out a timeline for it and maybe a little of the history of the owners and the location. When I think through this, it always changes based on the people I see running it.

The one thing that my Grandma (b. 1904) would say when she saw the 1920's represented is that they always "forgot Florida". According to her, you could not escape ads for Florida land development - they were everywhere: magazines, posters (as in on the bulletin board in general stores or pasted to walls in town), flyers, traveling salesmen, etc... until the Florida market crash (1926, I think, but it could have been a year on either side of it). So maybe a banner ad for some new Spanish-revival villa or deco development that will make you rich beyond your wildest dreams in the land of sunshine and happiness is in order.
posted by Tchad at 3:20 PM on December 9, 2009

Spend some time drooling over Letterhead Fonts' offerings. Many of their fonts are inspired by late 19th/early 20th century signs and advertising, and a lot of their example logo designs evoke the time period without resorting to the sepia cliché you're trying to avoid.

Nthing looking at old catalog reprints for inspiration... a lot of those, especially the ones printed by Dover, explicitly state that you're free to use the graphics for pretty much anything except publishing your own clip art book.

I hope you'll follow up with a post on MeFi Projects, I love early 20th century design, and I'm curious to see how it turns out. Good luck!
posted by usonian at 3:27 PM on December 9, 2009

Don't forget to emulate the appropriate prose style, especially if you're selling things. Also, use font dingbats for ornaments.

Finally, the store is selling to particular customers. How would customers have been different then? What would they have wanted, as far as the store would know? How would the store have marketed to them? What would be the newest, most exciting ideas extant, and how would they be trumpeted?
posted by amtho at 3:56 PM on December 9, 2009

Is your general store in Belgium? If so, it might have a page in the Mundaneum.
posted by b1tr0t at 6:35 PM on December 9, 2009

You store would not have a shopping cart, the requested items were gathered by the "counter person" and placed next to the register to be totaled up for the sale.

My grandmother's family owned a grocery store in the French Quarter (New Orleans) in the early '20's. She worked the counter. A customer would enter the store, approach the counter, tell her what they wanted. The items for sale were all behind the counter on shelves. She would gather all of the items for the customer, placing them on the counter, then ring up the purchases on the cash register.

She met her husband, my grandfather, while working the store. He would tell her the items one at a time forcing her to trot back and forth between the counter and the shelves. Her father would get very annoyed at the amount of time she was spending with this one customer and banned him from the store. They eloped soon after and were married for 68 years.
posted by JujuB at 8:47 PM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

If the store was big enough, JujuB's "counter person" might also write down the order on a slip of paper, stick the paper inside capsule in a pneumatic tube, punch a button and the capsule would whisk away to the stock room to be filled. Very similar to the pneumatic tube systems that lots of bank drive ups still use today. The pneumatic system was also used for sending cash from the store front to the accounting clerk's office, too. You could have fun visualizing this system of counter person to tube in lieu of a shopping cart on the site.

(Just think how far we've regressed by comparing this personal service from the '20s to today: walk into BigBox store, grab your own cart, figure out where to go because no one said hello to you when you walked in, choose what you need because no one knows which item is best for your needs/intended use, load cart yourself, and finally, with the dumbest "best new idea" EVER, check yourself out at some dumb terminal which insists on telling you that you didn't put the item in the bag yet so it can't let you scan another item, bag items yourself, and walk out the door, likely setting off a security system at which point you finally have some human interaction.)
posted by webhund at 9:54 PM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

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