Friday, December 16, 2011

Shopping 1896

Christmas Eve is eight days away! Do you have your shopping done?

Shopping is an important part of the holiday season, and that was just as true in 1896. For the holiday meal, shoppers could buy 2 dozen oranges for 35 cents and a gallon of fancy cranberries for 35 cents. California wines were 25 to 40 cents a bottle and “very fine” brandy went for a whopping 85 cents. Meat department specials included fresh flounder at 10 cents a pound, Jack rabbits for 24 cents each, quart cans of New York select oysters at 35 cents and freshly skinned perch at 3 pounds for 25 cents. Whole opossums were 95 cents each. If holiday shopping brought on a headache, the local drug store could provide a 10 cent bottle of Bromo-Seltzer, and to promote “digestion, cheerfulness and rest” in children, mothers could count on Castoria; 35 doses sold for 35 cents. The nasty-tasting brown liquid was a longtime staple. Generations of taste buds—including my own—recoil at the memory of that abominable root-beerish flavored stuff. Advertisements for gifts in 1896 included a muff footstool for the elderly grandmother or aunt. It consisted of a round leather portable footstool, three inches off the ground. A Japanese stove concealed within allowed elderly toes to stay toasty. Another popular item at Christmastime in the 1890s provided a much safer alternative than a Japanese stove. This was the Hot Water Bag, advertised with this poem:
In winter when it’s snowing and the storms are wildly blowing,
And all the earth is covered o’er with robes of ice and sleet,
Oh, then our hearts are mellow with compassion for the fellow,
Who is tortured through the night with his wife’s cold feet.

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