There are over 5,000 catalogues for British and foreign hand tools, cutlery and holloware, surgical instruments, machine tools and steel, dating from the early 19th century to the present day. Some manufacturers no longer issue printed catalogues and we now also acquire digital versions to ensure that the collection continues to develop.

Having evolved from the earlier pattern books, trade catalogues list the products which a manufacturer could supply and became common after the 1860s. Most items illustrated in the catalogues would have been made by that firm, but many products could be 'bought in' from other manufacturers and it is sometimes impossible to tell who made an item.

The catalogues, as well as providing information about cutlery and tools, etc., are important social documents. They trace changes over time in the design and functions of tools, the introduction of new materials and processes and, sadly, the decline in the number of products and firms.

The collection also holds possibly the most comprehensive run of the Sheffield Illustrated List which show the diverse range of material manufactured in Sheffield.