Merchandise Spotlight-Galileo's Thermometer (1,026 words)
At the turn of the 17th century, Italian inventor Galileo Galilei discovered that a change in temperature affects the buoyancy of liquid, giving rise to the invention of a crude thermometer. Fast forward about 400 years, and Galileo's "thermoscope" is now available to the masses, sold as a work of art and science to grace our homes and offices. Today's version consists of a clear glass cylinder, filled with a clear, temperature-sensitive liquid and glass globes filled with colored liquids, each with a numbered tag to display the temperature.
Galileo's thermometer is difficult to describe, let alone image, in a catalog. Following, you will find descriptions of how six different catalogers solved the puzzle of how to turn a glass tube filled with liquid into one of the hottest gift items of the 1998 holiday season.
Plow and Hearth
The Plow and Hearth catalog, as its name implies, features home products, with some apparel, food and gardening equipment thrown in. The catalog creates a warm, "homey" atmosphere, with products that make your house a home— equipment for the fireplace, so you can have a roaring fire; flannel bedding for a cozy bed; and soup to warm your belly on a cold day.
Galileo's Thermometer is included on a page with bird clocks and prints, and is positioned as a useful yet beautiful instrument for telling the temperature. Plow and Hearth's spin on Galileo's Thermometer: This is both a work of art and science; it will be a beautiful and useful addition to your home. It features a tabletop and wall-mount 18˝ thermometer and as well as a tabletop 25˝ version.
The Edge Company
The Edge Company Catalog features scads of interesting gadgets and tools, such as the world's smallest remote control, a sheet of $2 bills and Galileo's Thermometer. As its name implies, The Edge catalog showcases cutting-edge products.
The Edge has a different, more "high-tech" style than the rest of the catalogs featured here, and its description is telling of this fact: It not only promotes the thermometer as a thing of beauty, but is a bit sarcastic about Galileo's troubles with the church (the inquisition). The catalog recounts how only the intervention of a rich benefactor saved Galileo from a "church barbeque."
The two thermometers featured in The Edge, 11˝ and 17˝models, share a catalog page with such oddities as a truth machine, a Nascar knife and a Solar Air Field Sculpture.
The Lillian Vernon Personalized Catalog is a treasure trove of every possible item imaginable—all available with your initials. This was the only catalog to offer personalization of the Thermometer, by etching initials into the blown glass. The catalog, packed with all sorts of kitschy stuff includes such items as a jewelry case, a golf towel, a money clip, and pet bowls, all of which can be personalized.
Known for its practical and personalized gifts, Lillian Vernon positions the Galileo Thermometer as suitable for the business or home office, as it is included in a spread of business products—a multiplying mouse pad, a paperweight and an office-on-the-go kit. Its spin: Make a favorable impression by giving this work of art to your favorite business professional. Lillian Vernon offers the thermometer in only one size—11˝.
This catalog for fans and friends of public television offers products that are way off the beaten track. The catalog describes its customers as intelligent, thoughtful, witty and fun—just like the products it features. The catalog is filled with amusing and unusual products, including a "Got Milk?" baby outfit, a string of Dilbert lights, and a barbeque kit.
A 15˝ Galileo Thermometer is positioned as an object "out of this world," as it shares the page with like items: a stellarscope and star theater. Signals' take on this product: This is a conversation piece for your home.
Bits and Pieces
As its name might imply, the Bits and Pieces catalog is filled with all things puzzling—3-D jigsaw puzzles, puzzle jewelry and a puzzle clock.
While the other catalogs feature glass globes with colored liquid inside, the Bits and Pieces catalog takes a different slant and features a different version: world globes or gold and silver globes floating in the cylinder. Bits and Pieces offers both variations of the thermometer in two sizes—93⁄4-˝ or 193⁄4˝.
The catalog's positioning—as a place to find challenging brain teasers—features the Galileo Thermometer as a useful, yet attractive item to display in your home (it also offers shelves to display the thermometers). Bits and Pieces' slant: The thermometer is a thing of wonder and mystery; you don't exactly know how it works, but it does.
The Norm Thompson catalog features food and flowers, apparel and housewares, tools and toys: products that are not ordinary, but rather extraordinary—high quality gifts for friends, family and self.
Featuring the Galileo Thermometer on its back cover, Norm Thompson positions it as an unusual gift of beauty that will enhance your home. Its spin: This is an object to be treasured, especially as a gift—as the word "gift" is used in both the product's headline, "the gift of Galileo," and the product description, "a treasured Norm Thompson gift."
Out of all the catalogs, Norm Thompson offers the widest variety of sizes: four in the tabletop model—11˝, 13˝, 17˝ and 25˝—and a 171⁄2 ˝ wall-mount version.
Price was a major differentiator, indicating that there may be significant quality differences as well. An apples to apples price comparison was difficult because the sizes run the gamut from 93⁄4˝ to 25˝ tall. The prices varied from $39.95 for an 11˝ model in the Edge catalog to $149.00 for a 25˝ model in the Norm Thompson catalog.
Interestingly, the date of creation for Galileo's thermoscope seems in dispute: Plow and Hearth says it is from the 16th century, while Norm Thompson describes it as of the 17th century. We checked three other sources, and each listed a different date—1593, 1597 and 1606. While either catalog's chronological claim may be correct, the consumer who receives both catalogs is left to decide which she will trust.