I spent last night alternately watching the Olympics and thumbing through a catalog. The 1895 Harrod’s Catalog, to be specific.
It’s always interesting to read these things. They give me an idea what’s available to my characters. Ideally, I’d have a Portuguese catalog from the period, but I haven’t even found evidence of a department store there during that time period.
Do I believe that they could have ordered from Harrods? Well given that there was such a strong English presence in Porto, I suspect they had their ways, although it would have been expensive and shipment would have been spotty. (Train shipments went out every day, but sea shipments? Only a handful of times during the summer.)
The instructional value is, however, two-fold.
First, it reminds me what sort of technologies and chemical preparations were available in mass market form. Sewing machines? There were several pages of them. Refrigerators, cameras, meat lozenges. Yes, they had them.
Secondly, it reminds me what was and wasn’t easily seen in stores. For example, while the Sears 1902 catalog had pages of corsets, Harrods 1895 didn’t have a single one. This tells me that people in Europe didn’t think those should be ordered by mail. I can only speculate as to the reason.
Chamberpots were hard to find in Harrods, but I could order coal by the ton. In Harrods, most of the garments weren’t pictured, just described (whereas Sears tried to put a pic with almost everything.) Harrods sold more fabric. Neither sold condoms (I’ve been trying to figure out where a Portuguese gentleman would purchase such things in 1902) while Sears had a large selection of douches. Sears sold a lot more snake-oil and ‘electric belts’. Harrods sold a horse-riding exercize machine (astride for men, side-saddle for women.)
So I have guidelines for what’s available to my characters, but there are some things that I will just continue to guess at…