December 15, 2009

Christmas Shopping in 1897

With a tight book deadline looming and still lots of book to be written, I did much of my Christmas shopping online. The rest was done on Black Friday and the days I babysat my granddaughter. I had my list and made quick work of it, even though it was a long list.

Christmas in the 19th century was celebrated far different than today. There wasn’t the commercialism we endure. Nobody was trying to take ‘Christ’ out of ‘Christmas’.” You cut down your own little tree—or probably didn’t have one at all. Christmas was an event celebrated with family and close friends. Most gifts were handmade—if there were gifts at all. Some folks ordered special gifts from catalogs like Montgomery Wards or Sears, Roebuck and Co. I thought it might be fun to go through the 1897 Sears catalog and see what interesting gifts we could find.

Let’s pretend I’m a ten-year-old girl from a semi-wealthy family. My father has given me a gold eagle coin ($10) to spend on Christmas gifts for my family. Yeah, that probably would never happen, but hey, I’m a fiction writer, so give me some lee-way.

For Pa, I ordered a fancy lawn mower, since I keep getting chigger bites from the tall grass around our house. Besides, the cows and goats aren’t doing too good of a job and leave behind flops that I have to dodge while doing laundry or other outside chores. For just $3.85, I bought Pa an Acme 18” mower. It’s billed as “the easiest running lawn mower made.” –Author’s Note: What amazed me about this 1897 mower is how similar it looks to the push mower my dad used when I was a kid—and no, that wasn’t 100 years ago.

Ma needs something to make her stand out from the other ladies at the church socials. She is the lucky recipient of “The Louette.” Here’s the actual catalog blurb: This cut shows one of the loveliest creations of the season. A very pretty fancy straw trimmed full around front and on side with gathered lace, wired wings of lace, and two pretty bunches of wildflowers on the right and left sides, ribbon finishing lace and flowers turned up in back and finished with two large rosettes of satin ribbon. 

This is a hat rarely seen in retail stores for less than $3.50 (Hmm…imagine a hat as costly as a lawn mower) and is only obtainable at this price from Sears, Roebuck, and Co. Black, brown, and navy, each $1.99. – Author’s Note:  Seriously, how many of you would actually wear that? It reminds me of an early Flying Nun bonnet.

Little brother Johnny has pestered me one too many times. I found just the thing for him, and Ma will be so delighted. Johnny is getting a Boy’s White Lawn Blouse Waist. It only cost 43 cents—or…I could get him 3 for $1.20. They come in all colors, including pink. Giggle. Snort. Aww…the sweet taste of revenge.

My big sister Lottie is nice and shares candy that her beau gives her, so I wanted to get her something special. Lottie loves tea, so I decided on a Lamp Chimney Stove and a teapot. Now she can make tea in her bedroom any time she wants. She just has to hook the tiny stove(picture on the right) to the top of her lantern and place her teapot atop it. The catalog ad says water will boil in a few minutes. The stove only cost 3 cents and the teapot was 50 cents.

I’ve finished my shopping and still have money left. I probably should give it back to Pa or maybe by some candy with it. But I’ve had my eye on some ice skates for a long while, and I’ve just gotta have them. The ad says they come with cast steel polished runners, bright steel toe and heel plates, russet leather straps. And best of all, they only cost 62 cents. I still have money left and might get me some candy after all.

Me again: As I looked through my thick 1897 catalog searching for strange things to show you, I realized that things in that time period were far more modern that I expected. I found fishing reels, baseball equipment, fancy stoves for heating and cooking, even lotions, potions, and remedies for removing freckles. Maybe I should try that one.

Have a fabulous Christmas season. And remember, Jesus is the reason for the season!

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Karen Witemeyer said...

Hi, Vickie. I had fun playing along with your Christmas list. One of my favorite historical resources is the 1895 Montgomery Ward Catalogue. It's full of great ideas. Did you know you could purchase a celery holder? Looks kind of like a vase, but apparently it holds vegetables. You can purchace pre-styled bangs to augment your hairdo, and men can even buy full beards. Oh, and don't forget the shampoo paste.

Have a great Christmas!

Carla Gade said...

Oh, I'm loving this post, Vickie!!!

Susan Page Davis said...

Love it, Vickie! Just send me the candy.

Vickie McDonough said...


I hadn't heard of a celery holder. I just cut mine up and put it in a Tupperware container filled with water and no lid. I could have a lot of fun with someone buying a fake beard in a story. creative juices are flowing.

Thanks for stopping by, Carla.

And Sue, virtual candy is on its way!

HandyFamily said...

Very cute, and I am pretty sure they didn't get bogged down with all the hustle and bustle that we do. Merry Christmas!

Carrie Turansky said...

This was really fun! Thanks for sharing, Vickie!

April said...

What an interesting post. Thank you for sharing.