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The Marshall Field & Company Collection

Posted under Collections by Guest author

Collections volunteer Robert Blythe details the history of artifacts in our Marshall Field & Company collection.

In 2006, many Chicago-area residents were crestfallen when all Marshall Field & Company stores were rebranded as Macy’s stores. A local institution, Field’s was the premier Midwestern department store with industry-leading customer service standards. Generations of Chicagoans cherish their memories of the flagship State Street store’s holiday windows, lunching in the Walnut Room, and the lengths the store’s associates would go to ensure customer satisfaction.

Field’s corporate parent in 2006, Federated Department Stores, and its previous owner, Target Corporation, recognized the importance of Field’s history. Shortly after the switch to the Macy’s name, each firm donated a large portion of its Field’s-related materials to the Chicago History Museum. These donations were mammoth in size and rather sudden.

A reproduction of the famous clock, most likely used in a window display, 2007.100.5. All images by CHM staff

There were hundreds of three-dimensional objects that have only recently been more fully processed and catalogued. This collection includes items from every period of the store’s history, such as architectural pieces from the State Street store and its restaurants, figures used in window displays, vintage wooden and cast-iron toys, and labels from Field’s own clothing lines. A highlight from the early years is founder Marshall Field’s roll-top desk.

Robert Blythe and a Collections staffer examine the uncrated roll-top desk purportedly used by Marshall Field, 2007.99.6.

Robert Blythe displays an assortment of Christmas tree ornaments in their newly constructed archival storage boxes.

Some of the artifacts offer glimpses into the lives of store employees, such as the photographs of the shoe department sales force c. 1900, a trophy won by members of the Field’s Choral Society, and twenty-five-year service pins that became obsolete with the name change.

The Marshall Field & Co. archival collection comprises nearly one thousand boxes. Throughout its history, Field’s was conscious of its role as a leading US retailer, so it retained company records; catalogues, advertisements, and other promotional items; records from its subsidiaries; internal communications; and thousands of photographs.

To help researchers navigate this large collection, archives staff in the Collections department recently created a finding aid that provides a high-level inventory of some of the collection. These materials show how Field’s sought to position itself in the marketplace over the years and respond to changing consumer preferences. Field’s kept scrapbooks of its newspaper advertisements, and an enterprising scholar would find much material for a history of twentieth-century advertising. Promotional material from the early twentieth century was often aimed at more affluent customers—the “carriage trade.” After World War II, Field’s shifted its marketing toward the burgeoning middle class.

Field’s commissioned original art for the covers of Fashions of the Hour such as this one from 1926. [Folder 14053(5)]


The home goods catalogue from spring 1967 features a then-popular fondue set. [Folder 14060 (8)]

The Dayton-Hudson Corporation owned Field’s from 1990 to 2004, as indicated here on the Winter 1996 catalogue. [Folder 14172(14)]

The collection contains a complete run of Fashions of the Hour, a large format magazine/catalogue that Field’s published, dating from 1916 to 1978. Press kits and press releases by the thousand are present, including those prepared for store visits by the likes of author Carl Sandburg and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. We may never see another retail giant like Field’s, but we can savor its memory through the collection.

Comments (8)

  1. My 90 year old aunt passed away and I am finding small items, for example, gold foil gift tags with the initials MF&Co. about 20 of them. are they of any interest to you? Peace

  2. This is fascinating. Is there a photo collection from Marshall Field & Company that is online? I am interested in looking through vintage photos from the State Street store, but live in Phoenix.

    1. Hi Luann, Thanks for your interest! The Museum’s digitized images related to Marshall Field’s are here or you can browse images from several Chicago institutions here.

  3. My grandmother worked for Marshall Field’s as a seamstress around the turn of the century to the early 1900’s. My grandfather also worked there as a “cash boy.” My father worked there seasonally as a clown in the mid-1920’s. I grew up in the 1950’s and early 60’s in Villa Park,IL until age 15 when my family moved to OK. I have wonderful memories of shopping trips to the store with my grandmother and my parents. When visiting Chicago in the early 2000’s I had gone to the floor where the archives were normally open to the public hoping to look at pictures to see if my grandparents or my father appeared in any photographs of employees, however I was told the archives had been moved to storage to accommodate a display about Paris. We were leaving Chicago the next day so would not be able to see the archives. I was deeply disappointed, however the concierge presented me with a Marshall Field’s bag filled with little gifts. Still, to this day I purchase Frango Mints to enjoy at Christmas. I have a Christopher Radko ornament of the famous Marshall Field clock, and had taken a photo of the clock on my last visit to Chicago. My daughter, who lived in the area at the time, having not seen the photo I took, bought a photograph from the Chicago Historical Society which depicts a street scene (circa 1930’s) which includes the clock. Coincidentally the photo I took seventy years later was almost identical to the one she purchased. I hope to visit the historical society someday to see the archives. Thank you for preserving them

  4. Dear Friends, the above link will take you to a photograph of a map of 1947 Chicago featuring Marshall Fields — drawn by my mother, Jeanne Pattridge. The rest of this album inlcudes some of the commercial art she would have done for Marshall Fields. If you don’t trust a link sent in an email, you could certainly access it directly through Facebook, on my page > Photos > Albums > Jeannie Pattridge’s Art 1945-1947. The art in that album is from her residency at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. If it is of interest to you for inclusion in your archives, please let me know! All the best, from tropical Superior, Wisconsin.

  5. I am in Albuquerque, NM and recently came across some watercolors (at a thrift store) by an artist named Robert J Bresnahan. He was apparently employed by Marshall Field because in the collection of his work was a poster advertising Marshall Field sporting goods with his name attributed as the artist of the poster. The lithographer was listed as KJ Twardowski.
    I’m not able to find any information about Mr Bresnahan at all but his watercolors are quite interesting. I’m wondering if anyone has any information at all about this artist.
    Thank you.

  6. My mom worked in the drapery shop on 14 floor ,my dad was the picture frame manager on 15 floor my grandmother on mom’s side worked at fango candies on the 9 floor workers elevator side

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