Column T.W. Paterson: Christmas from the T. Eaton Co.’s 1901-02 Winter Catalogue

There’s a good selection of sleds ranging from 15 to 65 cents(!)

Sleds looked quite different than the sliders kids often use today to play in the snow. (submitted)

There’s a good selection of sleds ranging from 15 to 65 cents(!), and cutters, one large enough to carry an infant passenger, cost between 45 cents and a dollar.

Last week I wrote about the major shifts in Christmas gift giving and attitudes towards same, particularly by parents, that have occurred during my lifetime. But change is even more apparent if you compare a sales flyer for shops selling today’s hi-tech “toys” to the traditional gifts for youngsters of years gone by.

The easiest way to do this is to check out an old mail order catalogue for any of Canada’s leading department stores. Not only have they, too, been subject to changing tastes and times, they’re — gone! Woodwards, Eaton’s and now Sears have been the victims of a tsunami of shifting consumer attitudes to purchasing and selection.

So, today, for a seasonal break, let’s peruse a copy of the T. Eaton Co.’s 1901-02 Winter Catalogue. Did you know that Eaton’s Books, Music and Stationery department offered a library of religious and educational titles that included Bibles, prayer and hymn books? The Oxford edition of the Bible came in both languages with choices of typeface, type size and covers that included real cowhide, “French turkey grain, Alaska seal (limp and silk-sewn) and Rutland Morocco”. Those cited ranged from 10 cents for black cloth to $2 for the Morocco binding.

Catholic prayer books were considerably less elaborate and less expensive, from black cloth with red edges (10 cents) to various leathers priced up to $1.25. The Presbyterians were the big spenders, their Book of Praise (with Alaska seal, limp, leather lined with tunes!) costing all of $4. The Methodists weren’t far behind, their hymn books and bibles ranging as high as $3.50. Mind you, their top model hymn books and Bibles combined were pretty classy, too, with French Morocco covers and “limp,” yapped, gold-edged pages.

You could also buy the great works of literature (Dickens, Scott, Thackeray, etc., in bound sets), from $2.50 to $15) and the complete works of Shakespeare — 39 volumes for $7.

So much for your child’s religious and educational aids. Contemporary children’s books which undoubtedly had more appeal to the recipients were available for as little as 25 cents. (I should point out that the catalogue doesn’t make clear whether shipping and handling were included in the price or cost extra. They must have cost extra because it’s specifically stated that Christmas cards, available as of Nov. 1, were mailed postpaid. Which made them even more expensive, up to 20 cents each.)

But enough of the serious side of gift giving, let’s get down to the real thing: boys’ and girls’ toys. The catalogue opens with “wheel goods”: tricycles, velocipedes, carts, wheelbarrows, wooden box and delivery “waggons”, a dog sulky (nicely painted in red [with] strong shafts, springs [of] best quality steel, steel axle and whip socket, foot rests, etc., in two wheels sizes (22 and 28 inches), $3.50 and $5.

We musn’t overlook the shoo-fly rocker — “a very pleasing toy [with] dapple grey horses, hardwood rockers, nicely finished in two sizes,” small 75 cents, large and heavy, 90 cents. (If you don’t know what a shoo-fly rocker is, we’re talking about a rocking horse.)

To back up, tricycles ranged from $4-$9.50 and the girl’s model had a plush, upholstered seat; velocipedes (parents were instructed to measure the inside of their child’s leg), to $5.20. For $5.75 and the toddler, a canopy top spring waggon (sic) cost $10.05 with accessories including fenders; a boy’s truck bearing the initials of the Grand Trunk Railway on its sides (optional at no charge) went for $2.25.

There’s a good selection of sleds and cutters ranging from 15 cents(!) to 65 cents for sleds, and from 45 cents to $1 for cutters including one large enough to carry an infant passenger.

Uncostumed Ma and Pa, “Nankeen” and Eaton’s Beauty dolls ranged from 15 cents to a dollar. For the boy, drums with calfskin heads and complete with sticks, cost from 25 cents to a dollar. Toy pianos: 25 cents to $7 (the latter a grand piano, no doubt). Guns that fired sticks (horrors!): 15 cents to $1. A large selection of iron toys ranging from 10 cents to $2 included fire engines, a sulky, a phaeton (horse-drawn passenger wagon), passenger trains, buckboards and delivery wagons.

Surprisingly, the selection of games is quite limited, only three, in fact: crokinole, Halma (a strategy board game), chess, checkers, dominoes, parcheesi and card games such as Old Maid and Snap.

But no cap guns.

www.twpaterson.com

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