Graphic Design and Marketing
The variety and inventiveness of the designs of stock plan catalogs demonstrate trends in printing and graphic design, advertising and marketing, and popular taste.
Hardware and building supply stores, savings and loan companies, banks, lumber companies, builders, and even Marshall & Stearns, purveyors of the “oscillating portal wall bed” published house plan books. Entrepreneurs of all types saw them as great marketing opportunities easily aimed at their primary audiences.
Not meant to be permanent, the first stock plan catalogs were generally small format and cheaply printed on black and white newsprint. As their popularity grew along with the increase in homeownership, plan companies became more creative and followed the trends in commercial art of the day. Eventually, as printing became less expensive (San Francisco was a major printing center in the early 20th century), illustrations and even photographs of completed houses were added. Color began to be used both on covers and inside pages.
Design and layout of the plan books was so important that in 1908 Henry L. Wilson, publisher of The Bungalow Book, and owner of a large Los Angeles stock plan company, sued Rex D. Weston for copyright infringement because Weston’s plan book was so similar in “makeup and appearance.”
Note the increasing sophistication of marketing pitches, from sketches of how the finished house and its interiors would look, and the inclusion of happy families who inhabited the houses, to naming houses, such as “The Ryan,” or “The Compton.” The titles of the booklets themselves sought ways to indicate inexpensive but high quality, such as Distinctive Small Homes or Artistic Homes.
Many plan publishers charged only nominal fees for their booklets, since advertising from building supply companies and financial institutions helped defray their costs. Companies such as Cleveland Publishing of Los Angeles produced hundreds of plan books, many exactly alike, for distribution by different companies and industries across the U.S.
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