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Ronald Chabot: A Passion for Collecting
Interview with John Willis, compiled by Marguerite Sauriol

"… what drives a collector is not so much the possibility of a reward … it is a taste for adventure." —Ronald Chabot

Ronald Chabot lives in Lévis, across the river from Québec, and owns a paving company. Originally from Saint-Zacharie in the Beauce region, he has been an avid collector for over 35 years. He began gathering various objects in 1968 at the age of 21. What got him started? One day, he saw a truck on the road overflowing with antiques. He figured that it was headed for the United States, taking those heritage objects far from their place of origin or use. At that moment, he decided to accumulate all kinds of things, made in Canada and abroad, to keep them in Quebec.

It was after reflecting on those antique or familiar objects and their flight abroad that he began collecting a wide variety of things. Over the past few years, however, he has focused more on three categories of articles: cast-iron objects (piggy banks, frying pans, stoves, irons, etc.); promotional items and other sheet metal products made by Thomas Davidson Manufacturing, and mail-order catalogues. This last category, the most extensive, occupies a special place in Chabot's collections.

  Thomas Davidson Manufacturing Company 
Ltd., Montreal, 1902.  

Enlarge image.Thomas Davidson Manufacturing Company Limited, Vinet Street, Montréal, 1902.

  Thomas Davidson promotional plate.  

Enlarge image.Thomas Davidson promotional plate. By using processes such as lithography, the company distinguished itself with the beauty of its products including food tins and various promotional objects.


Mail-order Catalogues

  Eaton's national ambition, Eaton's 
Spring Summer, 1950, cover.  

Enlarge image.Eaton's Spring/Summer Catalogue, 1950. In 1950, the company extended its sales network to every region of the country. As this illustration shows, at the time it had several buildings in various parts of the country.


The decision to collect catalogues was not made overnight. In his early days as a collector, Chabot found a few here and there, and then, over the past ten or fifteen years, he began looking for catalogues of kitchen and wood stoves from Quebec. He has been collecting this type of publication "on a systematic basis" since the early 1990s. When he met historian Michel Lessard, the latter explained the role collectors play by supplying museums and networks, as well as the importance of catalogues, which are a very rich source of all kinds of information. According to Chabot, their importance stems from the fact that this type of publication is "a document … a witness of an era … a chronological record, in a way, that reflects society. Catalogues do not lie." He adds: "… when you look at a retail catalogue, you can link an object to a period in time, then you can look at three or four catalogues that preceded it and three or four that were published after" to see that styles change.

Catalogues: Collector's Items that Are Becoming Increasingly Popular

Chabot noted that the catalogue market has evolved over the past ten years. He has visited numerous antique dealers and has always openly explained the purpose of his search. Through those visits, Chabot has certainly helped other collectors understand the importance of this promotional material. Many people have begun looking for catalogues for various reasons. Among other things, such publications make it possible to establish precise dates for objects. In addition, explains Chabot, Christmas catalogues are essential to anyone who wants to collect toys. Other people who happened to keep catalogues but did not collect them seemed to have a good understanding of their importance and, to a certain extent, their value.

At the moment, therefore, a good many people are increasingly interested in catalogues, but the reason they collect is of little importance. Each catalogue is unique in some way, because it offers certain categories of merchandise, for example, or is more general and diversified in nature. That is one of the reasons Chabot is interested in certain types of catalogues.

Highlights of Certain Catalogues

  Three Sacred Heart statues by Daprato, 

Enlarge image.Three Sacred Heart statues sold by Daprato, 1929. The Chicago firm specialized mainly in the production of religious articles. This image is from its 1929 catalogue.


Although Chabot has a marked preference for stove catalogues and his only copy featuring products made by the Thomas Davidson company, the ones that are most attractive, from the point of view of their graphic presentation, were published by two American companies, California Perfume, based in New York, and Daprato, a Chicago firm specializing in religious articles that were well known in Quebec at the time. To Chabot, the California Perfume catalogue is the most impressive because of the way colour is used and the fact that the articles are shown life-size.

The catalogues he finds most fascinating are usually those from the 1910s and 1920s, especially the sections devoted to women's clothing and hats, whose colour illustrations he finds wonderful. Catalogues were in fact designed first and foremost to attract the attention of women, of the female consumer. According to Chabot, the women's clothing section was longer and more striking than the others. Some companies, such as Dupuis Frères, included nationalism and the Catholic religion in their sales pitch.


  Beauty products for adults and 
children, California Perfume catalogue, ca 1917.  

Enlarge image.Beauty products from the California Perfume catalogue, ca 1917. The New York firm made perfume and personal hygiene products for adults and children. (products for the body)



  Beauty products for adults and 
children, California Perfume catalogue, ca 1917.  

Enlarge image.Beauty products from the California Perfume catalogue, ca 1917. The New York firm made perfume and personal hygiene products for adults and children. (products for babies)



  Cathedral of Saint-Hyacinthe, Dupuis 
Frères (Clergy) Automne hiver 1939-40, cover.  

Enlarge image.Dupuis Frères Fall/Winter Catalogue for the Clergy, 1939-40, cover featuring the cathedral of Saint-Hyacinthe. At the time, there were a large number of religious orders in the city located on the Yamaska River, in one of the wealthiest districts of Quebec. There is a maple leaf in the background.



To Chabot, the golden age of catalogues was between 1880 and 1915, a period known to historians as la belle époque. He noted that catalogues from that period contain very beautiful plates. However, the material presentation of this type of publication deteriorated during what he considers a "period of decadence" that began in the 1940s, during the Second World War. At that time, the catalogue illustrations looked like poor photocopies and companies focused more on the quality of the products sold. That was not the case for all firms, though. For example, one day, while speaking to a fellow collector about a certain catalogue and pointing out the quality of the paper as well as the richness of the images and the graphic presentation that conveyed the quality of the goods well, Chabot suddenly realized that the catalogue in question was from England.

Catalogue Collections

Chabot's collection contains several catalogues produced by foreign companies, including some from the United States: the Daprato and California Perfume catalogues mentioned above and that published by Montgomery Ward, a Chicago firm. He also has catalogues from France, catalogues produced by carriage manufacturers, and stove catalogues.

  Goodwin's Fall Winter 1911-12, cover.  

Enlarge image.Goodwin's Fall/Winter Catalogue, 1911-12. Located in Montréal, the company had been founded two years previously under the name Rea A. E. & Co.


Chabot probably started his collection with a catalogue from Eaton's or Simpson's. He now has several thousand catalogues from department stores and specialized retailers such as Canadian Tire, Hudson's Bay Company, La Compagnie Paquet, P. T. Légaré, Goodwin's, Bélanger of Montmagny, Copp Brothers, a Hamilton company that sold stoves, McClary, Gurnoy, Obe, a stained-glass company from Montreal, and, Desjardins, a fur company. Chabot's collection includes about 140 Dupuis Frères catalogues, and 400 to 500 from Eaton's and Simpson's.

Chabot points out that, like the catalogues of La Compagnie Paquet, those published by P. T. Légaré are hard to find, especially issues from the early 20th century. He considers himself lucky, however, to have found catalogues produced by the company. A friend from the Saint-Roch-des-Aulnaies region, whose grandfather had been a representative of the company, had a whole series of them in his attic. One of the catalogues was from 1889, the early days of the firm when it was called Latimer et Légaré. Some copies were still in the shipping envelope, so they were practically new. Chabot inherited those catalogues.

  P. T. Legaré Sleigh 
Catalogue, cover.  

Enlarge image.P. T. Legaré Sleigh Catalogue, cover. The company made the sleighs it sold.

  Brochure from 
P. T. Legaré 
Motor Catalogue.  

Enlarge image.Brochure from a P. T. Legaré Motor Catalogue. The company specialized in vehicles and agricultural equipment, and also distributed articles for the home.


Unless you have such a stroke of luck, says Chabot, you must go to specific places to obtain catalogues.

Chabot's Finds

The main sources of catalogues are garage sales and flea markets, for example, in Saint-Romuald and Sainte-Foy. It was in Sainte-Foy that Chabot found a box full of Dupuis Frères catalogues. According to Chabot, the antique dealer practically gave him the box. One usually finds single copies of catalogues, or maybe two or three at a time. Chabot obtained the Daprato catalogues from an antique dealer who liquidated his business. The dealer had kept several boxes of catalogues from the Chicago company. Little by little, Chabot became known in the network as a collector, which sometimes made it easier to acquire certain objects. That is how he found himself with a considerable number of catalogues and collector's items. All he needed was a place to put everything.

Storing the Catalogues

The objects collectors accumulate end up playing a very big role in their lives because collecting is a passion: "If you speak to collectors," explains Chabot, "you'll find that they are necessarily passionate about what they do … A collection is like the third member of a couple." Eventually, the objects accumulated literally invade the home so Chabot had his basement and one other room redone to preserve his treasures. He also employs specific storage techniques. The cast-iron objects made by Thomas Davidson are in airtight plastic containers. The catalogues are stored vertically,and each one has been placed in an acid-resistant plastic envelope to protect it from humidity, light, and rodents. In addition to doing an inventory of the Simpson's, Dupuis Frères and Eaton's catalogues, Chabot established a filing system. He also has a vast collection of postcards, which he organized according to region and placed in albums.

The Collectors' Network

For several years, Chabot systematically purchased everything he found, even if it meant he had duplicates or triplicates of objects. He was thus able to supply items to universities, museums, and friends. He also lent catalogues to researchers, including one who specialized in traditional Quebec architecture and another who was researching the material culture of Quebec. He also supplied Dupuis Frères catalogues to the Canadian Postal Museum and Josette Dupuis-Leman, descendant of the founders of Dupuis Frères. Some pages from the store's catalogues were reproduced in a book she wrote entitled "Dupuis Frères, le magasin du peuple"; it was published in 2001 by Stanké in Montréal.

For the past few years, antique dealers and collectors have met at an important annual event that usually takes place in Drummondville but was held in Saint-Hyacinthe in April 2003. In addition to that event, which is not a place for exchanging objects, there are informal get-togethers, as well as meetings of the various collectors' associations.


It is not easy to start a collection. "Ideally, you should have help," says Chabot, and not all collectors are willing to share information. Lack of experience, he adds, is another problem that has to be considered. It takes several years' experience in a particular field to be able to correctly determine the quality of an object. "Sometimes you get rid of things you should have kept or you buy things that you shouldn't have." With the postcards, for example, it took Chabot about five years to get the feel of it, to be able to gauge the nature of "a beautiful postcard." He began collecting cards that featured storefronts, store interiors, commercial streets and businesses, promotional postcards, etc., and eventually ended up with 1500 to 2000 cards.


  Lamontagne Limited promotional 

Enlarge image.Lamontagne Limited promotional postcard. The Montréal firm made leather goods, including suitcases, trunks, and equipment for horses.



  Postcard featuring various Eaton's 

Enlarge image.Postcard featuring various Eaton's buildings. This card also has an effigy of John Craig Eaton, who was the company's president at the time and who had control of the company from 1907 until the beginning of the 1920s. Timothy Eaton opened his first store in 1869 in Toronto. It was the precursor of the mail-order catalogue. By the end of the 1920s, Eaton's had two stores (the second in Winnipeg), two factories, and offices in Europe.



  Postcard promoting Eaton's catalogue, 

Enlarge image.Postcard promoting an Eaton's catalogue, 1945. People who presented this card at the company's order office received a copy of the new Eaton's Fall/Winter Catalogue, 1945-46.



In short, collectors are driven by a real passion, the "feverishness of finding a specific object." After collecting for over 35 years, remarks Chabot, "You begin to have some practical experience … you begin to recognize the objects, to know lots of things," and that is what becomes interesting. He adds that there is a taste for adventure from the outset. His passion for collecting has allowed Chabot to meet many historians and people in museums, as well as travel and discover the province. In other words, collecting is also a social activity.


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