May 2, 2018

Does Stamped Lumber Mean a House is a Sears House?

In this post I will examine another half-truth about Sears homes.

Does Stamped Lumber Mean a House is a Sears House?
  • "Stamped lumber is one way to identify a home ordered from a Sears catalog."
  • " decide if your home is a Sears kit home.... Look for stamped lumber on the exposed beams/joists/rafters in the basement, crawl space or attic."

I get many emails each month from readers who find stamped lumber in their houses and believe they must own a kit from Sears, based on information they found on the internet.

Unfortunately, it's not that simple. Let's get down to the nitty-gritty.

Since the Turn of the Century, Lumber in the U.S. Has Been Marked 
Lumber mills started marking cut lumber with rubber stamps or stencils around the turn of the century. This information might include:
  • the code for the truck on which the lumber was transported
  • the mill ID number
  • the name of the lumber company
  • a trade group logo
  • the grade of the lumber (beginning in the 1920's)
  • the size of the piece
  • the condition of dryness
  • the wood species
  • the customer name

The mere existence of marked lumber in your house does not mean your house is a Sears house. I saw some stamps on the joists in my basement, and my house was built in 2005.
Stenciled lumber from a house built in the 1920's.  This house was not from Sears, but had materials furnished by a Baltimore area lumber company. Just because a house has marked lumber, does not necessarily mean it is a kit house. Photo courtesy of Baltimore Brick by Brick.

All Sears Houses Do Not Have Marked Lumber
Sears began offering pre-cut lumber for houses in 1916. Prior to that date, the lumber would occasionally be stamped with "Sears Roebuck" or the customer name--but not always. There are Sears houses built in the 1910-1916 timeframe that have markings indicating their origin, but the vast majority of Sears houses from that time period do not have anything.

Many Sears Houses Have Similar Markings, But Other Sears Houses Have Totally Different Ones
Many Sears kits have a similar marking pattern on their lumber. After 1916, Sears typically would stamp the pre-cut framing members with a single letter followed by a three-digit number ("A388").  The stamped codes corresponded to the instruction manual and helped the builders determine what piece went where. 

Stamped lumber with a four-character alphanumeric code authenticates a house as being from Sears Roebuck. This lumber is from a Sears Conway in Lombard. Photo courtesy of Margaret Kansa.


This illustration from the Sears Modern Homes catalog shows how the ends of the lumber were marked.


This stamp was found inside a wall in a Sears Sheridan in Barrington. Photo courtesy of Wende Dau.

This stamp is under the basement stairs in a Sears Americus in Lafayette, Indiana. Photo courtesy of Ryan Russell.


This stamped lumber is from a Sears Willard in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Photo courtesy of Bill Marcotte.


Just to complicate matters, not all Sears houses were marked with these alphanumeric codes. (You thought this would be easy?)

This marked lumber is from an authenticated Sears Del Rey in Downers Grove, built in 1927. I have never seen Sears markings like this. Photo courtesy of Chuck Holtzen.

This lumber from Sears has the customer name and delivery location stamped on it. No alphanumeric codes were located. This is from a Sears Woodland in Rolling Meadows, built around 1931. Photo courtesy of Kathy Muno.


This stamped lumber is from a Sears Somerset in South Carolina, built around 1920. The Sears name is stenciled on this wood, which is unusual. No alphanumeric codes can be found in the house. Photo courtesy of Sallie Fallaw.


Beginning in the Late 1930's, Most Sears Houses No Longer Had Stamped Lumber
Beginning around 1939, most Sears houses no longer had stamped lumber, but instead had simple handwritten labelling. Why this change was made, I have no idea.

This lumber with grease pencil markings is from an authenticated Sears Lynn in Highland, Indiana.  8478 corresponds to the Sears order number listed on the shipping label. There is no other marked lumber in the house. The Lynn was built around 1940. Photo courtesy of Jill Grusak.


In Conclusion
The topic of marked lumber as it pertains to Sears houses is a complicated one. The information propagated on the internet tries to simplify the issue (that is, marked lumber must mean a Sears house), but that's not always the case. Sears houses may have markings or may not, and other houses may have markings and yet may not be kit houses.

Clear as mud?

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