It’s interesting to look at the changing size of Kays’ catalogues between 1939 and 1945.

Kays catalogues, 1939-45.
Kays catalogues, 1939-45.

I’d estimate that Spring/Summer 1940 is at least three times fatter than Spring/Summer 1942. Interestingly, it’s also a bit fatter than Spring/Summer 1939. The effect on British catalogue shopping of Britain’s declaration of war on Germany in September 1939 doesn’t seem, on this evidence, to have been very swift.

There is a little evidence of war inside the Spring/Summer 1940 catalogue, either — and where the war does appear, it seems to have been put to a promotional purpose. On an opening page, Kays solemnly announce that they will carry on with business, seeking ‘to play our part in maintaining the life of the nation… in providing employment… and in keeping industry busy.’

'In carrying on this service, we seek to play our part in maintaining the life of the nation', Spring/Summer 1940.
‘In carrying on this Service, we seek to play our part in maintaining the life of the nation’, Spring/Summer 1940.

‘IT’ (the UK? Or Kays?) ‘WILL ENDURE’.

Most of the remaining pages look as if they could have come from a more peaceful year. I spotted some nice Jacobean-style furniture, with ’embossed carvings and heavy bulbous legs’. Britain was not yet suffering from shortages of timber, so it was apparently all right for your sideboard to make frivolous use of material in decorative bulges.

'Furniture of pleasing design', Spring/Summer 1940.
‘Furniture of pleasing design’, Spring/Summer 1940.

Two years on, Spring/Summer 1942 has fewer products to offer. Clothing takes up most of the space, along with floor coverings (lino, rugs and coco matting) and bed linen. But there’s still not much to directly suggest there’s a war on. Although clothes rationing had begun by this point, interestingly, the catalogue doesn’t ask for coupons. Perhaps Kays’ agents dealt with this side of business.

Only a very small note on the inside front page mentions ‘war-time conditions’ — on account of which ‘it may be necessary to revise the price of, or withdraw, any article at short notice’.

'Tradition and Progress', Spring/Summer 1942. Mention of 'war time conditions' in lower left corner.
‘Tradition and Progress’, Spring/Summer 1942. Mention of ‘war time conditions’ in lower left corner.

Kays’ Spring/Summer 1943 catalogue does give the coupon requirement for clothes, which had to be paid in addition to the price in money. You can also see the Utility ‘CC41′ mark next to illustrations, to show that Kays’ clothing was made in accordance with government standards, and sold at or below government-fixed prices.

'New design for living': women's clothing, Spring/Summer 1943.
‘New design for living’: women’s clothing, Spring/Summer 1943.
'Utility CC41' mark showing that clothes met government standards, Spring/Summer 1943.
‘Utility CC41’ mark from the page shown above.

The catalogue for Spring/Summer 1944 suggests that Kays have made good on the promise of endurance from 1940. ‘In spite of war time difficulties and scarcity of supplies, we offer a comprehensive range of goods unbeaten by any other catalogue produced to-day.’

Clearly nothing could stop Kays’ dedication to home shopping service.

'Buy with confidence through Kays catalogue', Spring/Summer 1944.
‘Buy with confidence through Kays catalogue’, Spring/Summer 1944.

There’s a picture in Spring/Summer 1945 that looks rather celebratory. Three couples are shown, the women in bridal wear, the men in military uniforms, all smiling happily, above an image of a ring, ‘for the bride or bride to be’. No one looks worried about impending death or destruction.

Wedding ring 'for the bride or bride to be', Spring/Summer 1945.
Wedding ring ‘for the bride or bride to be’, Spring/Summer 1945. Photo by Peter Harris.

The war would only end with the declarations of victory in Europe on 8 May 1945 and in Japan on 15 August. But the Normandy Landings, or D-Day, had taken place in June 1944. Things were drawing to a close, at least in some respects.

In some ways, however, the effects of war would linger. Clothing continued to be rationed until 1949 and food rationing, though not evident in Kays’ catalogues, continued until 4 July 1954.

The Spring/Summer 1945 catalogue sells utility furniture as well as wedding rings.

'Domestic furniture', Spring/Summer 1945.
‘Domestic furniture’, Spring/Summer 1945.

And there’s an interesting note in the catalogue for Autumn/Winter 1948:

In the National interest transport facilities are restricted, therefore, before returning any goods which have been ordered in the wrong size or colour, try to dispose of them to another member or friend. This will save TIME, TRANSPORT and MONEY.

It would also, I expect, save Kays quite a bit of time, money and trouble.

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