The Trade Literature Collection is the largest and most diverse collection of its type in any Australian collecting institution with over 60,000 items. Trade Literature can be broadly defined as any text or text and image-based publication produced by manufacturers or distributors to promote, market, explain, repair or service their products throughout their 'life cycle'. It includes items such as promotional brochures, advertisements, product catalogues, repair and maintenance manuals, price lists, accessory lists, parts lists, sales bulletins, specification sheets and technical bulletins.
The collection represents the products of almost 9,000 Australian and overseas manufacturers, categorised by 4,000 different products types, mostly documenting products that were made, marketed or used in Australia between 1850 and the present.
The collection is internationally significance due to its representation of Australian and overseas companies across a broad range of products from agricultural, transport and engineering equipment, through to electronics, computers, domestic appliances and scientific instruments. The scale of the collection and the manner in which it is indexed make it a unique research resource within Australia.
It has enormous research potential in helping identify and date technological artefacts, understanding how different types of technology were made and worked, and establishing timelines of key technological developments. The collection also provides insights into the study of technological transfer and product innovation in Australia, historical trends in product marketing and graphic design, and the social history of the use of different types of technology.
The Museum has collected trade literature in an ad hoc fashion since the late nineteenth century, although it until the 1980s it was considered a research resource rather than a collection in its own right.