A “Sweet” and Cheap Architectural Detail Resource

Yes, I thought it was time for a bad pun. The “sweet” resource I’m talking about is the Sweet’s Indexed Catalogue of Building Construction. Not the modern version, mind you, but the earlier volumes. In particular I’m talking about the first one ever printed, in 1906.

Reprint copy of the first edition of Sweet’s

I found my copy in a used bookstore about 25 years ago, back when 3rd Street in Santa Monica was still a sleepy street lined with great used bookstores instead of chain outlets. It was a 1970’s reprint of the original, in great condition. But the most striking thing about it was how different it was from it’s modern relatives. This book was printed for people who actually drew details, and both wanted and needed to know how things were built.

Most of the products pictured throughout the book had either detailed drawings or photographs of the items, with dimensions and cutaways showing how they operated and how they were integrated into the architecture of the building. This was a far cry from the ‘updated’ version, void of details, which was meant only to be a means of calling out the correct ‘part number’ on a drawing rather than giving the architect a full understanding of the specifics.

The original volume, if you can find a copy, has a green cover. The reprints will have a tan cover. The most useful ones for our work run from 1906 to the 1930’s. They aren’t easy to find but Google has solved that problem. Among the millions of books they have digitized for their ebook site are the 1906 and 1907 editions of Sweet’s. The digital editions aren’t as crisp as a printed copy, but the details you’ll glean from them are priceless. You can download it as a pdf and have it on your computer whenever you want to refer to it. Here is some of what you’ll find:

A sample of a typical advert featuring both photos and detailed sections

details of furnace and ducting showing how the duct and registers are attached to the wall framing

One of hundreds of photos showing details such as trim, ironwork and tile.

Detail of large furnace for an office or apartment building

An early central vacuum system

And here’s proof that people had MUCH bigger heads 100 years ago

Another good source in Google Books is a magazine from about the same time period called The American Builder which has some good articles with details. This ad for a drafting course is great. Considering an average draftsman would have made about 35 to 40 cents an hour at that time, $100 a week would have been top dollar.

2 thoughts on “A “Sweet” and Cheap Architectural Detail Resource

  1. This is great to see. I didn’t know of the history of the Sweets cataloges. It would be a great resourse to have as part of our research kit. The 2 natty dressers are great fun. Coming out of the late 19th century gilded age industrialists they have a reason to have big heads.

    The add for the drafting tool kit and FREE course seems, in many ways, very contemporary, just change the tools and the price and it fits in today on day time TV. Check out the fine print of what’s included with the kit! What’s that selling for on eBay now?
    http://www.ebay.com/itm/ANTIQUE-VINTAGE-UNKNOWN-DRAFTING-SET-IN-BOX-/140750100514?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item20c55c1822#ht_2986wt_896

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    • Ebay is awash with vintage drafting sets of every vintage and make. You can get antique sets for as little as 5 dollars. That set in 1910 would have set you back several days wages. It’s amazing how comparatively cheap things are today taking in to account modern wages.

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