Things have sure changed since the old days, as I’m learning as I thumb through The Book of Christmas Things from the 1800s, a collection of holiday ads, songs and stories gathered and edited by one Robert F. Hudson.
Example: Contrast the silly seasonal songs we hear nowadays with some of those folks’ Christmas ditties – like the one that whose second verse goes “Joy comes and goes but grief remains, my days small comfort bring….”
Try getting people today to go out and spend money with a tune like THAT ringing in their ears! Or take the advertisements of the time. How far would a toy company get today with this ad, running under a photo of a two dolls, a larger girl and a little tiny boy:
“Great inventors, artists, and mechanics have been at work for years trying to perfect low-priced, jointed indestructible dolls that can be made to sit down, bend over, stand on their heads, move arms and legs and be placed in all sorts of cute positions either undressed or undressed.” Hmmm.
It goes on: “The doll here shown is the most wonderful and successful result of long and weary trials, the boy doll made in the same manner, not jointed but with fancy suit of clothes to match, so you can dress and undress.“ (Lucky joint-free boy doll, who couldn’t bend an arm to help around the house even if asked! Plus he’s got the fancy clothes.)
But the part that really strikes me as strange is that even after buyers shelled out their 25 cents to buy this pair they STILL wouldn’t be done, because, as the text explains in far smaller print, they dolls are just two skins (Hannibal Lecter called) but “you can fill them with bran or sawdust or cotton and easily sew them up.”
Folks from the 1880s also loved cutlery it seems. It wasn’t like now when we all keep hearing from some poor 19-year-old who wants to come to our houses and sell us new knives by demonstrating how crummy our old knives are.
Here’s an ad showing a spoon couple sitting up in their bed with expressions of Victorian shock while a third spoon wearing Christmas stocking around his nether parts is seen leaping in there with them. Wha-a-a-t?
And here’s an ad for a spoon with Santa himself crowning its top and a Christmas tree worked into its bowl.
“What’s the matter with a solid silver Santa Claus spoon?” the ad bullies. “It’s alright!” it shouts on. “For the baby, for an oatmeal spoon, or as a teaspoon or as a charming souvenir of the season for anybody.”
Then there’s this ad for “the perfect rifle, to shoot 22–100 cartridges, or act as an air gun to shoot darts slugs and bullets; “A Christmas Present That Cannot Fail to Please Your Boy or Friend!” its header reads in outsized print. “Suited for lawns, parlors shooting galleries, excursions festivals and fairs,” it goes on, “or to use about the house barn or field to shoot rats and small game.”
Then finally, there’s this ad, for a gift that promises a cure for whatever ailed those people of yore;
“The Best Christmas Gift “ says its headline. “If father is getting bald and mother suffers constantly from headache or neuralgia; if sister is prematurely gray and brother is troubled with dandruff or crazed with agonizing toothache we will guarantee a cure1” –and no, they’re not selling anything made from the magical coca leaf, or some elixir made up of 100-proof whisky, but rather a hairbrush. A hairbrush!
I suppose people bought them, because it’s true: there really IS a sucker born every minute, as the canny P.T Barnum put it, whatever the century or decade.
(and while we’re at it, how’s this image, drawn by the famous Thomas Nast? Pretty
(and while we’re at it, how’s this image, drawn by the famous Thomas Nast? Pretty sure I wouldn’t get in his lap !