Sunday, February 27, 2011

Cover to Cover: Acorn Software Fall 1981 Catalog (part 1)

Some of the ephemera in my collection isn't necessarily interesting at a glance, so I'm going to try something different.  I'm going to pull out a vintage catalog or brochure and go through it in detail, page by page, product by product, over a series of weekend posts, and discuss whatever seems interesting about the material at hand.  Sometimes the catalog content itself is all I will have to present; sometimes I'll be able to provide some more historical background and detail.

I'm going to start with a now-forgotten TRS-80 publisher called Acorn Software Products, Inc. -- I never bought any of their products, but judging from the wear on the cover I must have read through this Fall 1981 catalog a dozen times as a youngster, when the industry was new and exciting and my software acquisition budget extremely limited.  I haven't looked at this in more than twenty-five years, and I hope that will help keep this series fresh and interesting.

Here's the front cover, not particularly remarkable beyond the font selection, which reminds me of the Electronics Boutique software chain's logo:

Opening the catalog, we find an introductory note to "Dear Computer User" written by the company's president, Daphne B. Schor -- notable in itself, as there weren't a lot of women executives in the industry at the time.  Her note is personal in tone, soliciting customer feedback -- the user base was small, the software industry was very new and publishers were still trying to figure out how to address the needs of the market.  We also see that users had to do some of the heavy lifting themselves, constructing their own printer drivers in the pre-Windows era, a theme that will surface again in this catalog.

I will also point out that, while the rest of the catalog is professionally typeset in a standard Helvetica font, this note appears to have been produced on a real typewriter -- there were no desktop laser printers in 1981, and you can see that Ms. Schor's "f" key apparently had a little gunk on it that cleared up as the letter progressed.

Next, we come to the table of contents, arranged in alphabetical order rather than by page number.  It was common in the early days of the home computer industry for a publisher to market both games and productivity software; as the market matured and software development standards and budgets rose, specialization naturally occurred.  But in 1981, the market was wide open, and Acorn was selling a variety of entertainment titles and useful tools:

Next time, we'll turn the page.

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