Friday, August 17, 2012

Grave Markers Ordered From Catalogs

Hand Carved Stone Marker
Mass Manufactured Stone
 Grave markers are the oldest form of funerary art. They have been used to mark burial locations since Celtic and Roman times.  Gravestones and memorials differ widely depending on where they are located, the status of the person buried there, when they were erected, and if they were hand carved or ordered from a catalog.

Vermont Marble Company
Flint Granite Company
When someone died, the family usually went to the local stone carver to arrange for a grave marker to be made. Those who could afford it might order markers directly from stone quarries and monument companies in other states, possibly New Hampshire or Michigan for the best blue granite, or Vermont for exceptional marble.  By ordering from the source of the stone, customers felt they were getting the best stone available.

Monument with Statue
Family Mausoleum
Affluent residents of the 1800’s through the 1920’s might have their graves marked with a large obelisk monument, a memorial with a statue, or a family mausoleum.  Ornate and elaborate grave markers could tell the story of the deceased, or showcase the family’s wealth.

Abandoned Quarry
Inside a Quarry
Markers were made from several types of stone including, field, slate, limestone, marble, and granite. Some were also created from metals such as zinc (White Bronze) or iron. Marble and granite were the most popular and durable of the stones used.  Stone markers were quarried; hand carved with hammers and chisels, polished and then shipped to the local monument company or cemetery.

Sears Roebuck Catalog
Price Information
In 1902, Sears Roebuck offered a Tombstones and Monuments catalog from which anyone could select a grave marker.  This put a reasonably priced, custom-ordered gravestone within the reach of almost everyone.


Workmanship Guarantee
Information on a product
Sears included a statement in the catalog that the stone used and the workmanship were both on par with the more exclusive monument and stone companies, but the prices were less expensive.  However, Sears requested that the stone be paid for in full before being shipped.

Marker for $4.88
In the 1902 catalog, Sears Roebuck prices began at $4.88 for a basic marker (without lettering, embellishments, larger stone orders, or shipping.) Sears also touted that their prices could be up to $150 less than those of a home monument company or stone carver.  The idea of ordering by catalog caught on and many people began planning what they wanted their stones to say and deciding on which one they wanted.

Catalog Tree Stone
Options Available
The Sears Roebuck catalog offered a wide variety of products to choose from. Customers could select Blue Vein Marble from Vermont or White Acme Rutland Italian Marble; granite markers were also quarried in Vermont. Upright stones and those with some small sculptures were available. Even tree stone markers could be ordered, although the more ornate stones with statues, obelisks and mausoleums were not obtainable through the Sears Roebuck catalog.

Montgomery Wards Catalog
Montgomery Wards also offered a catalog of Monuments, Tombstones and Markers.  While Sears requested payment in full before shipping, Montgomery Wards offered an easy payment plan so that “You need not leave the grave of your loved one unmarked just because you haven’t the money to pay the full price of a memorial stone.”

Red Barre Granite Markers
Symbols & Emblems
Montgomery Wards also offered stones carved in Blue Vein Marble from Vermont, along with Red or Gray Barre Vermont granite.  Lettering, symbols, and embalms were an extra charge, as were large stones, and shipping costs.

The Portrait Eternal stone was available in 1929 on which to preserve the “Likeness of Loved Ones” with a photo.

Fencing, Benches and Vases

 In the 1929 catalog, Montgomery Wards also offered iron fencing for the cemetery lot, wrought steel benches, and cemetery flower vases.

Description of Granite
J.E. Harrison & Son
Many stone and/or monument companies followed suit, offering catalogs to showcase what memorials were available and what the prices were.  Most catalogs offered marble and granite stones.

White Bronze marker
Monumental Bronze Company
The Monumental Bronze Company also offered grave markers for sale, but these consisted of their custom line of White Bronze markers.  These grave monuments were cast individually from zinc.  Each monument was made to order, then assembled and shipped from one of the company’s manufacturing plants. Sales of White Bronze monuments were popular from the 1880’s to 1914.

By the 1930’s, catalog sales of grave markers had decreased significantly.  During the Depression and war years, many people could not afford hand carved, or even mass manufactured stones.  The only option for many was to create a home-made grave marker by pouring concrete in a frame, or painting the deceased’s on a rock.

Laser Stencil
By the late 1960’s, stone carvers had become a thing of the past, and mass produced headstones were the norm.  But people no longer ordered them from catalogs.  They now went to the local monument company and selected from what stones were offered there.   

The era of individualist grave monuments; of small family mausoleums, soaring obelisks, and intricate statues was over. Catalog grave markers had heralded in a new age.

~ Joy


  1. Wonderful post. I note the iron vases, and have found a number of these buried in the ground in the front of headstones, long since forgotten. I think it might be interesting to note that the new 'thing' in headstones is almost retro, ordering now from the internet. I see that China is now making inroads into the monument business, and you can order your very fancy granite markers at low low prices right from China. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

    1. Thanks!! I wonder what the shipping is from China? That's how Sears and Montgomery Wards could offer such low prices, shipping was sometimes more than the stone!!

  2. Wow -- great post! And so informative --- where did you find all the old catalog pages? So cool. :)

    1. Thanks Jo! I love flea markets - you can always find old catalogues and paper items very reasonably priced.

  3. wow nice post about the granite markers. the picture and the information was really interesting

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