Remembering: Martha by Mail (Catalog For Living)

Imagine being able to buy some of the delightful crafts, dishes, vases and storage units shown in the pages of Martha Stewart Living magazine. That was the thinking behind a mail-order catalog business that the company launched in 1996 to help supply the demand from consumers. Everything from furniture to craft supplies, preserves and confections to gardening clogs, wreaths and cookie-cutters were on offer. The venture started off small. Several issues of the magazine that year were accompanied by mail-order inserts called "Martha By Mail." The demand was so high, however, that Martha soon realized she would have to develop an in-house merchandising team to design and create new products for this special division of the company. When marthastewart.com launched the following year, the Martha by Mail retail component was added to the online fold, which not only facilitated the ordering process, but also widened the market.
In 1998, "Martha by Mail" was strong enough to become an official catalog business; consumers could subscribe to the catalog and order any number of goods featured on its pages or online at marthabymail.com. What made the catalog so unique was the high quality of the product and the unique designs you simply couldn't find anywhere else. There was an air of exclusivity, rarity and even community in the Martha by Mail venture. 

Martha and her merchandising team partnered with some of the world's leading makers and manufacturers from around the world to produce the products they designed: L.E. Smith, Mosser, Frankoma, Robinson Ronsbottom, NordicWare, Wilton, Ateco, Lloyd Flanders, Sterling China, Broggi, Chiarugi, Krosnos, Steiff, Wedgwood, Juliska, Janaer Glas, Rainer, Michael Bonne Copperworks, Fenton, Bernhardt Furniture, Eleni's, Niman Ranch and CK Products were just some of the silversmiths, food producers, foundries, glassworks, ceramicists and furniture makers that provided products for the catalog. From England to Germany to Italy to Japan, and all across the United States, Martha by Mail brought together a world of tradition and craftsmanship that was actually unparalleled in the online-catalog business. 

While the business was successful for several years, its greatest challenge was maintaining a profit. It was an expensive project to run and it proved difficult for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia to oversee not only the rapid design of products, with the promise of new offerings in each month's catalog, but also to manage its delivery processes. The catalog business was closed in the summer of 2004.

For collectors of the Martha Stewart brand, there is nothing more valuable than the products that were featured in the pages of the "Martha by Mail" catalogs. If the products are sealed in their original packaging, the items can fetch two or three times what they originally sold for. (Of particular interest to collectors are the cookie-cutter sets, the unique cake molds and baking pans, the jadeite collections and some of the dinnerware and serveware sets.)

The catalogs themselves are highly collectible. At online auction sites, such as eBay, a single copy of the catalog can generate between $8 and $30, depending on rarity and condition, which is quite astonishing considering the catalogs were originally free! A complete catalog set, like the one shown below, could fetch as much as $1,000, perhaps more. Each of the catalogs that were issued by the company are shown below, in order of appearance. I wanted to put this up on Martha Moments as a collectors' resource. A very special thank-you to my friend Kenn for these scans!



















David said...

I have many of these catalogs and I cherish them immensely. You know Andrew, I take a lot of inspiration from them & they're a great resource for me as a collector of Martha by Mail items. I vow to have some of these items as future Good Things on my blog! Thank you for posting this! I absolutely LOVE it!

Marion's Kid said...

David.. Thank you soooooo much for this information. I have saved, no on purpose,but dumb luck, most of these catalogs. My husband tossed some of these on a spree of "helping" clear out stuff. Let us never speak of this again...mistakes were made.
Now seeing this I went through my old Martha's and found a few of the first ones.
I love them. And it is nice to see how creative a period it was in Martha's company.
Wish I had had more expendable income and then all of those great products would now be in my home!

Kristin said...

Wow! Thanks for preserving all those covers. Even though I was fresh from college I still managed to by a few MBM items. I cherish all those items today!

Cheralee Stover said...

Looking at these, I realize how much of our newlywed income I devoted to MBM products. I still have all of them, though. My Burleigh Ware pitcher is cracked, but now I use an insert inside for a vase. I can't bear to get rid of it. :) I do think that this period was the very peak of creativity for them, and I miss that. I think I'll make the beehive cake for Easter. :)

Kei P said...

Ah! How great. I cherish these as a part of many reminders of an amazing set of years. These pieces have travelled with my family and I to different countries and residences. The hanging starlight in every entry hall, octagon stem ware (I'd love even more), jadeite vase, cookie cutters for all occasions including hearts I made with the children's school classes every Valentine's. I miss this catalogue.