High resolution scans of an Argos catalogue from 1985: Shows how the world has changed and Argos have failed to keep up

Anthony Voz, artist, a collector of unusual vintage lighting tells us how after posting scanned images of a British Argos catalogue from 1985 he received a flurry of messages from those recalling a bygone era - just 26 years ago; but as Argos profits slump by 94%, what is the future for the iconic catalogue retailer?

Argos Catalogue 1985
For those that don’t know, Argos is the largest general-goods retailer in the United Kingdom and Ireland with over 800 stores. It is unique amongst major retailers in that it is a catalogue merchant, primarily displaying goods by catalogue, from which customers make their selections to purchase, pay, and then collect the items from an in-store collection desk or have the item delivered to their home. Founded in 1973, it publishes catalogues twice a year (a Spring/Summer edition in January and an Autumn/Winter edition in July). A high resolution scan of an Argos Catalogue from Spring/Summer 1985  has recently surfaced on photo sharing site Flickr which offers an insight in to how we lived just a quater of a century ago. Some of the most striking differences which can be noticed are those where technology is concerned – the catalogue showcases the likes of the Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum and Atari. Perhaps more surprisingly – there is evidently much that has not changed  over the last 26 years. Despite a brand refresh last year (including a slightly altered, new logo and TV ad campaign) in order to ‘present a more modern image, reflecting the extent of change at the retailer while reinforcing its established appeal’, the format of the catalogue and the system by which consumers purchase goods has changed very little, if at all. This all comes with news just last month that profits have plunged to just £3m – a drop of 94%, with analysts saying Amazon is consistently cheaper.

The catalogue was scanned by Anthony Voz, who tells us that it all began when he also started a project to ‘archive the entire history of the iconic British invention of the lava lamp, invented in the United Kingdom in 1963 and an icon of its time’. He created Flowoflava.com, as a place for ‘people to discover the history behind this amazing creation that I collect, every single lava lamp produced in the United Kingdom and to ensure that the history of the lamps would never be forgotten. Furthermore I created an archive that holds virtually the entire world’s history of the lava lamp.’ He went on to tell us how ‘…one of the ways that I referenced vintage lava lamps was by obtaining vintage catalogues and other press material which would eventually shed light on the lava lamp designs of that particular era. One day I decided to scan and upload an entire gift catalogue to my Flickr account and was delighted by the amount of people who related to it. This took me to add more detail and scan more catalogues.’, adding ‘I constantly look for catalogues in charity shops and car boot sales.’

One of the more compelling parts of his story is how every day he is sent messages and notes from people on Flickr who ‘…see things that they owned or wished to own back in the day and post their memories on the photos’. Anthony told us how ‘In many ways, the catalogues serve as an index or reference for people who collect vintage items but they also act as a way to connect with people to discover their stories, their past and their memories. For example, people see teddy bears that they owned, or games consoles that they longed to own as a teenager and the catalogues also shed light into how it was to live back then. Sometimes, looking at the catalogues makes people remember parts of their life that they had forgotten.’

He sent us some of the favourite quotes which he’s been sent recently: “…and i can almost smell the ink and paper on this page”, “I used to sit coding on one of these for hours…..ah the memories”, “I had the Philips cassette player (number 5). I wonder what happened to it?”, “I had the same garage as a kid….ended up in pieces…”, “Wow what a blast. Thank you so much. A Trip to my childhood days. They are all here. Just felt like a Kid again Looking at catalogues like back in the days.”, “I used to have a camera very similar to the Halina. FACT!”, “My 2 year old son is still banging out ‘choons’ on what used to be my number 21 at his Grandparents’ – Bontempi evidently built to last..”.

What items bring back memories for you? What do you think the most compelling thing is that can be gleaned from looking at a catalogue like this? What does it say about how the world has changed? …and moreover what does it say about how Argos has failed to keep up with changing times?

We’ve included some of the best scans from the catalogue below, and the full set of high resolution images are available on Flickr.

Argos Catalogue 1985 Cover
Argos Catalogue 1985
Argos Catalogue 1985
Argos Catalogue 1985
Argos Catalogue 1985
Argos Catalogue 1985
Argos Catalogue 1985
Argos Catalogue 1985
Argos Catalogue 1985
Argos Catalogue 1985
Argos Catalogue 1985
Argos Catalogue 1985
Argos Catalogue 1985
Argos Catalogue 1985

What items bring back memories for you? What do you think the most compelling thing is that can be gleaned from looking at a catalogue like this? What does it say about how the world has changed? …and moreover what does it say about how Argos has failed to keep up with changing times?