Then and now: Santa, I want the latest, greatest thing


A hundred years ago, everyone was making a list and checking it twice, just the way we do today, hoping that Santa would be generous.  If you were a child, you were probably hoping for the latest in ‘high-tech’ toys.

The Miles Star on December 5, 1913, noted that “The old style boat, that made the boy of a few years ago who owned one strut around like the king of a sea-going yacht, is not in it any more.  No longer do little Jack Tars wait for a favoring breeze to waft their craft around, they simply wind up the spring that rotates the screw in the keel of the little vessel and she scoots along in the water at knots per hour.”

It wasn’t just wind-up boats that were the rage.  Wind-up aeroplanes, unthinkable a mere decade before, were in vogue.  From “the more complicated species,” of plane, the Star noted, “a parachute is arranged to drop.”

The absolute latest for boys was the “Meccano outfit.”  Still called “Meccano” in the U.K., they would become known in the U.S. as “Erector Sets” in a few years time.

The dolls, according to the Star reporter, “are becoming more human every year.”  The “perambulator” in which the modern miss wheeled her doll was also more like the real thing.  The doll beds were brass, not wood, because merchants were “instilling early into childhood the modern idea of having everything sanitary.”

For ladies, silk kimonos, fur muffs and leather scarves were the fashion.  Sheet music was also popular, at 15¢ a copy or 12 for $1.50, which came in fancy gift box.

Gentlemen would be expecting the same ties, socks, and handkerchiefs that today’s man expects, but might also be interested in fancy leather collar and cuff holders. 

 The cuffs and collars were not leather, but linen or the new miracle material ‘celluloid,’ also used in film stock.  They were removable, to save on having the launder the entire shirt just for a dirty cuff and needed their own storage.

Even handkerchiefs weren’t simple.  For the ladies they came in linen, with or without initials, with the most modern fonts available.  Some came with lace as well. Gentlemen had a choice of linen or silk, initialed or plain, white or colored, and with narrow or wide hems.

Then there were roller skates, ice skates, and sleds for fun and pocket knives and shaving sets and percolators and mirrors and everything else modern life afforded.  The local alcohol distributers had a wide range of rums, gins, whiskeys, wine, port and cognac.  Ladner Brothers ran a full page advertisement extolling their assortment, which included that fine beer, Miller High Life.

Jewelers also did fine business, selling brooches, lavaliers, lockets, necklaces, bar pins, bracelets and rings.  Lavaliers were a particular type of necklace with a small pendant that were very fashionable in the days of the Belle Epoque.

It was also the first year the packages could be shipped by the post office instead of using rail freight or Wells Fargo.  They were a little nervous at the post office of the prospect but managed to carry it off so successfully, they are still at it.

Some items would still be popular today, but I suspect few fathers are looking forward to a new leather case for their removable collars.