Leader comment: Argos catalogues make a fascinating historical archive

Academic Leigh Sparks, an expert in retail studies, with an Argos catalogue (Picture: John Devlin)
Academic Leigh Sparks, an expert in retail studies, with an Argos catalogue (Picture: John Devlin)
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The sheer scale of an Argos catalogue can be daunting. So ploughing through more than five decades of these mighty tomes will be quite a task, but doing so will surely reveal many fascinating insights.

Professor Leigh Sparks – proud owner of the only complete collection in private hands – has already noticed a significant change in attitudes about physical exercise.

In the 1970s, sporting goods were mostly marketed at men in sharp contrast to modern catalogues which attempt to appeal to both genders.

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The earliest catalogue in his collection was compiled only a few years after the first woman ran in the Boston Marathon in the US in 1967.

Kathrine Switzer, who repeated the feat last year at the age of 70, entered the then all-male race under her initials and was chased by an angry Scottish race official, Jock Semple, who attempted unsuccessfully to stop her finishing the race. How times have changed.

The contents of Argos catalogues are partly a reflection of our society and its values. Looking deeper into this mirror may teach us more about where we have come from and perhaps where we are heading.