The Ghost of Christmas (Retail) Past… Part II

Next stop: The twentieth century, or more precisely, 1923. The decade may not be roaring yet, but the economy has shifted to peacetime and if conspicuous consumption as we know lies safely in the future, according to the November 1923 Ladies Home Journal the wintry landscape is sprinkled here and there with prospective Christmas presents.

Perhaps a fur for milady to tuck under the “magic tree” this year?

For the newfangled appliance lover, how about a “table stove” (the ancestor of today’s toaster oven, it would seem)?


The most “useful” and “appropriate” gift out there—a  matched towel set from Martex:

Even the Fuller Brush man gets in on the Xmas fun…

“Thoughtful men & women are beginning earlier each year to plan the greetings they want to send at Christmastime”:

The thoughtful person who is also crafty can opt for making homemade cards; all they need (besides the transfers for the designs pictured below, sold by the Home Pattern Company) are: Manila wrapping paper, tinted coal paper, chamois board, parchment, India ink, and watercolor paints:

But that’s it for holiday-targeted advertising in the issue; I’m guessing retailers in 1923 tended to do their Xmas promotions in December back then, when folks still spent the day after Thanksgiving travelling home from Grandma’s instead of rising at cockcrow or earlier to queue outside a big box store.  (As I write this, an early 1930s December LHJ is speeding towards my mailbox, and I will certainly report back on how extensive a glut of Xmas ads it does or does not contain).

To sum up: From the perspective of someone who deplores mass production and consumption but also happens to be in retail, this issue is soothing as well as mind-boggling. So welcome to see a ladies’ magazine geared primarily to informative articles that have nothing to do with weight loss or cosmetic surgery and which gives pride of place to a story by Edith Wharton. But wow, the pages are jam-packed with missed opportunities to start emptying the nation’s holiday pocketbook!

This mouthwatering Jello ad, for instance, could easily have substituted poinsettias for the pink roses on the table, and framed the whole scene in holly:

And check out the lack of enterpreneurial spirit in these perfume ads, which substitute gorgeous graphics (and hyberbolic text) for today’s requisite stacks of wrapped presents and artfully strewn Christmas ornaments:

It’s one thing to know in the abstract that in days of yore the nation didn’t devolve into consumer frenzy this time of year, quite another to see the actual proof in black, white, and color!

Next post will share some holiday ads from the post-WWII period (and likely make you very sad you can’t buy what’s in them). Stay tuned…

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