‘Tis the season… let’s take a dive into Rejuvenation’s archive of period trade catalogs and shed a little light on Christmas, early-20th-century style.
Once you pull your eyes away from "Maniacal Santa" on the right, you'll find a couple of early non-electric tree trimming options in this catalog of favors from B. Shackman (a company still in business today). On the left are clip-on holders for candles - "best illuminating effect with least danger of fire" - and on the right are colorful tinsel flowers to reflect the gleam from the candles. (c1910, Rejuvenation archives)
A "Christmas Tree Outfit" is not what you wear to hang ornaments, but what strings of Christmas tree lights used to be called. "Festoons" too, it would appear. And either Santa was shorter back then (wasn't everyone?) or he is trimming a pretty good-sized tree here. (1912, Rejuvenation archives)
The "Christ" in Christmas has been replaced by an X, the wax tapers on the tree by Santa Claus Electric Candles, and Santa himself by a comely Gibson Girl - and a smart one, too... "One of these Outfits solves the problem of safe Christmas Tree Lighting, with all the cotton, mica, popcorn, celluloid balls, etc., desirable." (1912, Rejuvenation archives)
Novelty lamps for your Christmas tree outfit festoons were common (as was the practice of dipping your own bulbs in colored lacquer). Christmas bulbs have evolved, and clearly Christmas tree stands have as well... (1915, Rejuvenation archives)
Santa has now grown in proportion to the tree, as have the bulbs. "Many unique ideas in decorative schemes and effects can be carried out with our Decorative Lamp Outfits" - including festoons of fruit lamps and flower lamps. (1917, Rejuvenation archives)
By the 1920s, folks are still buying decorative outfits, but they're looking a little more familiar to modern eyes. Except for the screw-in attachment plug at the end of the cord - two-prong wall receptacles weren't commonplace yet. (1922, Rejuvenation archives)
It's like Christmas Day in this Montgomery Ward spread from 1928 (although Halloween hasn't given up the ghost yet, at center right). From trimmings to toys to Santa's wool beard, it 's all here. And for you lighting geeks, isn't it interesting how that Extra Large Hanging Decoration looks remarkably similar to a classic shower-type light fixture of the previous decade? (1928, Rejuvenation archives)
On the topic of toys, what would the budding electrical enthusiast have found under his well-lit tree? In 1904, it might have been a "Little Hustler" motor kit: "Many boys have a burning desire to become electricians and to build a motor of their own." And for those who did not - they could take an electric train ride on the Pleasure Avenue trolley. (1904, Rejuvenation archives)
And finally, what would an early-20th-century Christmas be without an Erector Construction Toy Set under the tree - take your pick from this awesome selection. (1916, Rejuvenation archives)
Happy New Year – from years past!