Sunday, April 15, 2018

Sears Most Popular - April 2018 Edition

Every few months when the national database of Sears houses passes a major milestone, I do an update of how many Sears houses have been located in various states and provinces. The most recent update was in March of this year. As the national database closes in on 10,000 homes, I thought it would be interesting to share some additional information that is available from the database. One of the data sets that is of interest to our kit house researchers is the relative popularity of models of homes in the database. While we can't say definitively that the popularity in the database is an exact match with the popularity of the homes sold by Sears, it's likely that it's a close match.


For this edition of "Sears Most Popular" homes, I decided to share the top ten models from the database. In the case of a few models, Sears offered houses with identical or nearly identical designs under different names. For those houses, I've tallied the totals for both houses together. 

As the sales records for Sears Roebuck were infamously destroyed at some point, there's no official record of how many homes were sold or which models were most popular. However, one rough measure of popularity is how long homes were offered in the Modern Homes catalog. Houses that appeared in the catalog year after year were likely more popular than homes that appeared for a few years and then disappeared. We would expect those homes that appeared for many years were among the most popular and as you'll see from our list, that is case. 

Another factor in popularity is when the houses were sold. From what we've been able to gather from contemporaneous news sources and Sears marketing information, the volume of sales of Sears houses were highest during the 1920s. A house that appeared in the catalog for 10 years during the 1920s is more likely to have higher sales numbers than a house that appeared for 10 years in the teens or the 1930s.


Finally, the ability to recognize and identify houses also plays into the number of times that a house appears in the national database. It's no surprise that most of the houses in the top 10 have distinctive designs that make them easy to identify. While Sears sold homes of designs that were popular for the time period, some designs are easier to spot then others. Often times, the smaller, more modest models don't stand out from their non-kit home neighbors or are less easy to recognize over time as changes have been made to the homes. Often times, it's mortgage records and similar official records that help us find those houses which would otherwise be overlooked by a windshield survey. In any case, those houses with distinctive design elements that flag them as likely Sears houses are more easily spotted and thus more likely to be added to the database than houses with less distinct designs.

Now on to the top 10!

Model (Number of examples on the national database)

Vallonia (387)
Sears Vallonia
I consider the Vallonia the archetypal Sears kit house. If you showed people 10 different houses and asked them which one was the Sears house, I bet most of them would pick the Vallonia. Its classic Arts and Crafts style design elements and those distinctive front porch columns were clearly a favorite with customers as the Vallonia was first offered in the 1920 "Modern Homes" catalog and continued to be offered through the final catalog in 1940, long after Sears had traded in most of the Arts and Crafts-influenced designs in favor of more modest and modern designs in the 1930s. I always tell people that if a community has a Sears house located in it, it's most likely to be a Vallonia!

Crescent (324)
Sears Crescent
With its large distinctive front entrance with 2 or 3 columns on each corner, the Crescent is hard to miss. That's one reason it's number two on the list. It also was a mainstay in the catalog, first appearing in 1920 and continuing through the 1933 catalog. That said, we've seen a fair number of wanna-be Crescents so one has to be careful to check all the details to make sure they match up to an authentic Crescent.

Starlight (295) 
Sears Starlight
A more modest model than the Vallonia or Crescent, the Starlight was another popular model with Sears customers. The Starlight was offered in various forms over the years and most researchers recognize it as being first offered in 1911 before Sears started naming their models. The Starlight acquired its distinctive clipped gable front dormer in the 19-teens and by 1920, it was the standard design for this model. The Hamilton also shared this dormer but was larger and more expensive than the Starlight.

Conway/Uriel (269) 
Sears Uriel
The Uriel and Conway are almost identical models offered under two different names. There are some minor differences between the designs of the two houses but most researchers considered them to be the same model with different names. The Uriel was first offered in 1922. In 1926, the design was tweaked and renamed to the Conway and appeared through the 1933 catalog. While not as distinctive a design as some of the other houses on this list, there are original elements, like decorative brackets, that can help you identify a Uriel or a Conway.

Gladstone/Langston (250)
Sears Gladstone
Like the Conway and Uriel, the Langston and Gladstone were two models offered by Sears that have very similar designs. While they are often treated as the same model, there are some differences inside and out between the houses. My fellow kit house researcher Judith Chabot has a detailed explanation to identify the differences between the two. First offered in 1916, the Langston sported Arts and Crafts details while the Gladstone, which appeared in the 1925 catalog had a more streamlined look. The Gladstone continued to appear in the catalog through 1938.

Rodessa (250)
Sears Rodessa
The Rodessa first hit the pages of the "Modern Homes" catalog in 1919. While small in size, for most of the years that it was sold, the Rodessa had a distinctive front porch that makes it fairly easy to spot from the road. Around 1930, a more simplified design was introduced for the Rodessa and it stayed in the "Modern Homes" catalog through 1933. For a number of years, Sears used the construction of two Rodessas - one the "Honor Bilt" way and one the traditional way to demonstrate the benefits of building with pre-cut lumber.

Hampton (213)
Sears Hampton
Although the Hampton only appeared in the "Modern Homes" catalog between 1924 and 1931, it was another popular house at an affordable price with a few hints of Arts and Crafts architectural detail. Although I've previously lumped the Hampton and Crafton together as the same model, I've reconsidered that view and now treat them as two distinct designs. They do share similarities but the detailing and an extension on the back of the Hampton make it a different house from the various floor plans offered for the Crafton.

Berwyn/Galewood/Mayfield (201)   
Sears Berwyn
The Berwyn was first offered in 1928 and represented Sears attempt to offer a more modern take on a modest home design. Without changing the design, Sears renamed the model as the Mayfield and it continued to appear in the "Modern Homes" catalog through the final edition in 1940. Sears also offered a version of this model finished in face brick called the Galewood. Other than the exterior finish, it was the same house design as the Berwyn/Mayfield. Even though the Berwyn was offered just before the Great Depression was starting to depress home sales, we've found a large number of this house. It's often challenging to identify this model when changes have been made to the house but numerous examples have been authenticated through mortgage records.

Westly (198)
Sears Westly
One of the nicest looking models offered by Sears was the Westly. First offered as the #206 in 1913, this model was named the Westly in 1918 and appeared in the "Modern Homes" catalog through 1931. Like the Vallonia, the Westly is often spotted by its distinctive "Sears" porch columns. The Arts and Crafts details continue with a set of eave brackets of a design that appeared on a number of different models from Sears. The Westly also sports a second-story dormer with door and walk-out "porch". All these details help to make the Westly an easy model to spot.

Cornell (187)   
Sears Cornell
The Cornell was one of the Foursquare-style inspired models that Sears offered. It first appeared in the 1925 "Modern Homes" catalog. More modest in size and design than some of the other models, the Cornell was clearly a popular choice for many customers looking for a value for their dollars. With only some minor changes to its design, the Cornell continued to appear in the catalog through 1938. 
Know of any kit houses in your community? If so, let us know in the comments below!

2 comments:

  1. Great job highlighting this topic! The only one I’m slightly surprised about is the Berwyn/Mayfield, but everything else makes a lot of sense. Can’t wait for our group to hit that 10k mark!

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  2. Like you said, Andrew, the more distinctive designs will win this race if we're mainly using our eyes to identify the models. From a 1931 press release: "Following 12 years of usefulness, one old design was removed from the Sears Roebuck home catalog in 1928, as antiquated after having been constructed more than 1700 times, which probably constitutes the world's record for any construction duplication from a single house plan." None of these models meet that description. I was thinking maybe the Sears Argyle, but that house was so small, most of them are are unrecognizable or gone today.

    Our list today may miss some of the best sellers.

    Lara
    sears-homes.com

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