Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Guide to the Lillian Vernon Collection

Summary

Collection ID:
NMAH.AC.1495
Creators:
Vernon, Lillian, 1927-2015
Dates:
1974-2008
Languages:
Collection finding aid is written in
English
.
Physical Description:
12 Cubic feet
37 boxes
Repository:
Collection documents Lillian Vernon, entrepreneur who started a catalog business on her kitchen table. Materials include video and audio cassettes, awards, certificates, clippings, and sales catalogs.

Scope and Contents

Scope and Contents
This collection consists of 12 cubic feet of material relating to Lillian Vernon, entrepreneur, who started her catalog business at her kitchen table. Materials include video and audio cassettes, awards, certificates, clippings, and sales catalogs, 1987-2008.

Arrangement

Arrangement
Collection is arranged in three series.
Series 1: Lillian Vernon Bound Catalogs, 1987-2007
Series 2: Biographical Material, 1989-2004
Series 3: Audio Visual Materials, undated

Biographical / Historical

Biographical / Historical
Lillian Vernon, born Lilli Menasche (1927-2015), immigrated with her family to the United States from Germany after escaping the Nazi regime of the 1930s. Vernon inherited her family's entrepreneurial spirit and in 1951 when pregnant with her first child, she searched for a way to stay home and yet augment the family budget. Using her combined wedding gifts, Vernon invested $2,000 in the business and placed her first advertisement in
Seventeen
for monogrammed accessories for teenagers. She received an overwhelming response and her business was launched. In the early years, the size of the business was limited to Vernon and her kitchen table, where she sorted and filled orders.
Vernon grew her enterprise into one of the nation's most successful mail-order catalogs and a major corporation. The Lillian Vernon Catalog, which the company launched in 1956, became an iconic shopping resource for American women. Produced monthly, the catalog was typically 120 pages and usually featured 750 items. In response to a catalog and shopping mall boom in the United States in the 1980s, the company produced a number of specialty catalogs in order to broaden its market, including ones targeted for children and homemakers.
In 1987, Vernon's company became the first business founded by a woman to be publicly listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Responding to the increasingly important online market in the early 1990s, the Lillian Vernon Corporation opened a storefront on AOL in 1995 and followed with an online catalog and website. However, by the end of the 1990s, the company began to struggle to meet online needs, especially after the collapse of the dot-com bubble. Vernon sold the company to Zelnick Media in 2003, but retained the symbolic title of non-executive chairman.

Administration

Author
Patti Williams
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Collection donated by Fred P. Hochberg and David Hochberg, 2019.
Processing Information
Collection processed by Patti Williams, archivist, 2022. Select catalog covers digitized by Isaac Meth, intern, 2022.

Using the Collection

Conditions Governing Access
Collection is open for research.
Preferred Citation
Lillian Vernon Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.
Conditions Governing Use
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.

Related Materials
Materials at the National Museum of American History
The Division of Work and Industry holds related objects: engravo-graph machine, engraving blocks, kitchen table, wood sign, purse, and belt. See accession 2019.0306.

Keywords

Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
American woman entrepreneur Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Audio cassettes Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Business -- History Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
CD-ROMs Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Direct marketing Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
DVDs Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Mail-order business Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Sales catalogs Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Videotapes Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

Archives Center, National Museum of American History
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