Saturday, November 25, 2017

Wives MUST Buy Correct Christmas Gift for Husbands (1896)

Yesterday was Black Friday!
Have you recovered yet?

I love the Victorian American Era, and constantly study original, vintage sources for the fiction I write. Why? Because an accurate, true-to-history backdrop for fiction makes all the difference.

Not long ago, I came across an article that made me laugh. So much has been the same about Christmastime and Holiday Celebrations in the United States over the last one hundred and fifty years--and so much is drastically different.

Throughout the Victorian Era, Americans enjoyed (can anyone truly enjoy?) Christmas shopping...without "Cyber Monday" or any online shopping at all. Most of us associate "catalog" shopping with the nineteenth century, so you're likely to be surprised how late such an option came into being.

Through most of the era, Americans did their Christmas shopping the old-fashioned way. Store by store. In December's bone-aching chill. Without climate-controlled malls and certainly without central heating.

To make matters worse, merchants knew how to guilt women into finding "just the right gift". Merchants probably do the same thing today--I just haven't noticed.

I did notice, however, this charming newspaper advertisement in the Clinch Valley News of Tazewell, Virginia, published on December 18, 1896. Because certainly, if that young wife whom the Harrison, Surface & Company targeted in their advertisement precisely one week before Christmas Day, hadn't yet found that perfect gift, then shame. Shame on her! She'd better hurry in and spend a full twenty-five cents on a men's handkerchief. If that's not enough, she might splurge on shirt studs ranging from 25 cents to a full 75 cents.

Before we chuckle at how very little wives had to spend on their husbands in 1896, let's compare a dollar value then vs now.

What cost $1.00 in 1896 would cost $29.25 in 2016. (latest year offered)

The Silk Umbrella (Best) offered by this clothing department store at $3.75 (ouch!):
What cost $3.75 in 1896 would cost $109.67 in 2016. (latest year offered)

The offerings of the fine clothing department at Harrison, Surface & Company is best taken in full context. The ad itself, given it is roughly 121 years old and is now digitally scanned (and who knows whether the poor quality is due to age or a failure of newfangled technology)... so I've provided a transcription of the article as well as the original (I mean, the facsimile.).

Clinch Valley News of Tazewell, VA. 18 December, 1896.

Now, the careful transcription, everything spelled in context [sic], keeping as close as possible to the same run-on paragraph structure.


Of course you have, or you would not be reading this ad. What are you going to do to make his Christmas happy? Do you know that lots of men dread the coming of Christmas? yes, indeed, they do. And it is all because they are so often remembered with something that they do not want. Don't let anything of that kind mar your husband's Christmas.-- Here's a store full of things for men, bought to sell to men, bought to delight men, bought for men to wear. Want a happy place to come to, if you have a husband or brother on your Christmas list. We've bought to sell to "him" and that we know what "he" needs and wants are here and waiting for you. What a happy man he'll be who discovers his wife try to hide a HARRISSON, SURFACE & CO. bundle from his sight. Not many misgivings can that lucky fellow have about his Christmas.

Men's handkerchiefs, 10c., 15c., 20c., 25c.
Silk handkerchiefs, 50c., 75., $1.00.
Walking Sticks, 35c., 50c., 75c.
Silk Umbrellas, $2.50, $3.00, $3.75.
Cuff Buttons, 25c, 50c, 75c, $1.00, $1.25, $1.50, $2.00.
Fine Neckwear, 25c, 35c, 50c, 60c, 75c.
Dongola and Patent Leather Slippers, $1.00, $1.25, $1.50, $1.75.
Fine Gloves, 75c, $1.00, $1.25, $1.50.
Shirt Studs, 25c, 50c, 75c.
Scarf Pins, 25c, 50c, 75c, $1.00.
Collar Buttons, 10c, 25c, 50c.

Harrison, Surface & Company.
Clothing Department.

TAZEWELL,   --   --   --   --   --   VIRGINIA.

Do you feel the same type of pressure while Christmas shopping for loved ones today?

Does anything about Christmas shopping in 1896 surprise you?

I love writing books about holidays--well beyond "the holidays" of Christmas and New Year's (though I do write those, too).

The Halloween Short Story I gave away last month is part of this Holidays in Mountain Home Series. Have you read that story? (The Witching Eve) I'd love to hear what you thought.

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Copyright © 2017 Kristin Holt LC