Sweet’s File. Architectural. Sections 15-20.

The front cover of the book. The cover only reads, “Sweet’s File Architectural Sections 15-20,” in the upper right corner.

When I entered the Special Collections room at D.H. Hill, Sweet’s File Architectural Sections 15-20 immediately caught my eye. Its large but plain cover which was aqua blue stood out to me above the rest of the books on display. My first thought when sitting down in front of the book was how large and thick it was. I thought to myself it must have had over a thousand pages! The bright color of the front cover was surprising to me when I noticed that the book was about architecture. I estimated the book was about twelve inches tall, by about 8 inches wide. It must have been at least 10 pounds. The pages did not have the matte finish that I expected, however a smooth glossy finish. The pages were all still very crisp and vivid, which was surprising to me given the age of the book. The binding of the pages seemed to be similar to modern books, which had kept all the pages intact for over 75 years! The book did appear to have some stains and fading to the aqua blue cover. The cover only read the name of the book in the upper right hand corner of the front cover, and had Sweet’s logo, along with the sections listed, and the publication year on the spine. The cover was rough to the touch, however the pages were smooth. The smell reminded me of the old textbooks I used in middle school, a kind of musty-paper smell. Flipping through the pages, the sound was deeper in tone than the sounds of the usual thin pages of most books. You could tell just by listening that the pages in this book were much thicker, smoother, and sturdier, which is probably why they were still in such good condition after all this time. The physical aspect of the book that really intrigued me was the cover of the book. The aqua blue cover, simple layout, and minimal typography is not what I would expect from a catalog like that. It’s minimalistic design however was probably something that set it apart from other similar publications. There is no doubt that once you see the cover of that book, you will always be able to recognize it again, which I think is an important aspect of the design. The thing that I found the most interesting about the design of the book was the page content and layout. Being an architectural catalog, it makes sense that the pages would contain many pictures and diagrams. The pages consisted of construction products for various industries, as well as displaying new products for that year. These products consisted of windows, doors, storefronts, skylights, elevators, and other products. One of the products that stood out to me was the revolving doors, there were several pages dedicated solely to showing the different models of revolving doors. In addition to the design of the pages, the layout was non-traditional by having sections that were almost separate parts of the book with their own page numbers. Looking through all the old sketches, diagrams, pictures, and the overall layout was very interesting to me because I was able to see how publications like this have really changed over the years in terms of design.

This is the spine of the book. It shows the famous “S” logo, and lists the sections that this book contains.

As I started to research Sweet’s File Architectural Sections 15-20 I immediately began to discover some very interesting information about the background of the Sweet’s Catalog. First I found that Sweet’s Catalog was started by Clinton R. Sweet, but sold soon after to F.W. Dodge Company, and later again to McGraw-Hill. The first Sweet’s Catalog was published in 1906 in an attempt to prevent architects from having to keep up and reference thousands of different catalogs from their various suppliers. The idea behind Sweet’s Catalog was to take all of the suppliers’ catalogs and combine them into one reference book. This is where history was made. Sweet’s Catalog is now famous for being the first to normalize the size, design, and typography of all the catalogs used by Architects and Engineers and bind them together into one publication with an index (Shanken). This marked the end of the decade-old problem of firms being bombarded with catalogs of varying size and design from every manufacturer, and the beginning of standardized catalogs which allowed for greater efficiency for both manufacturers and architectural firms. This however is not the only reason that Sweet’s Catalog saw such great success. Recognition came to the Sweet’s Catalogs when Ladislav Sutnar was brought in by McGraw-Hill to use design to improve the visual aspect of the catalogs as well as to make them more useful and easier to follow (Heller). Utilizing graphic design to improve the technical functionality of a publication was not prevalent in this time period. This shift in design culture is why I believe this book is an important piece of design history and remains in NC State’s Special Collections at D.H. Hill. The book has been a topic of interest in many articles online, and is even a featured title at the Library of Congress, where over three-hundred feet of shelf space is dedicated to various editions of Sweet’s Catalog (Buydos).

This picture shows the beginning of the “Storefronts” section in the catalog.

I believe that Sweet’s Catalog was the result of a constantly evolving society. Sweet’s Catalog began a new era in the way that architecture is practiced. By making architectural practices more efficient by standardizing the catalogs, Sweet’s has allowed the industry to flourish in a way that would not have been possible without it. In 2000, it was found that eighty-two percent of Architectural and Engineering firms, and sixty percent of Contractors, relied solely on the Sweet’s Catalogs for their references, emphasizing their importance in the industry (Sweets). The hard copy publications of Sweet’s Catalogs continued up until 2012, which was the final print catalog before transitioning to an online database, putting an end to the brilliant design of Sweet’s Catalogs. In addition to Sweet’s File Architectural Sections 15-20, there are other architectural books that are included in NC State’s Special Collections at D.H. Hill, including File Under Architecture by H. Muschamp in 1974.


This is another page from the “Doors and Windows” sections that I found interesting because it displays the different models of revolving doors that were available at the time. The different fonts on the page also made it stand out among the others.


This is one of the pages in the “Doors and Windows” section that I found particularly interesting because most of the page was covered by sketches and schematics.



Buydos, John F, and Alison Kelly. “Research Guides: Sweet’s Catalog File: A Resource Tool for Architects, Engineers, and Builders: Introduction.” Introduction – Sweet’s Catalog File: A Resource Tool for Architects, Engineers, and Builders – Research Guides at Library of Congress, Oct. 2017, guides.loc.gov/sweets-catalog-file.

Heller, Steven. “The Last Sweets Catalog.” Print Magazine, 15 Dec. 2014, www.printmag.com/daily-heller/the-last-sweets-catalog/.

Shanken, Andrew M. “From the Gospel of Efficiency to Modernism: A History of Sweet’s Catalogue, 1906–1947.” College Of Environmental Design University Of California, Berkeley, 2005, www.ced.berkeley.edu/downloads/pubs/faculty/shanken_2005_gospel-of-efficiency.pdf.

“Sweets Catalogue: A Brief History.” Facetation, 11 Feb. 2005, facetation.blogspot.com/2005/02/sweets-catalogue-brief-historywhile.html.