Long before retail marketers created Black Friday and Cyber Monday, long before Christmas shoppers at Walmart fought over the last flat-screen TV in stock, long before Edmund Gwenn performed a miracle on 34th Street, long before Jimmy Stewart realized that it’s a wonderful life, and even long before the New York Sun printed its “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” reply to a little girl’s letter (see below), these Christmas ads and illustrations appeared in Fort Worth newspapers of the 1870s, 1880s, and 1890s:
Newspapers have always been a mirror of culture, especially before electronic mass communication. Fort Worth’s earliest newspapers reflect our culture’s uncommercialized treatment of Christmas in the century before last. In the early 1870s merchants were self-effacing if not downright bashful in their advertising at Christmas. In fact, you could read the entire edition of B. B. Paddock’s Fort Worth Weekly Democrat of December 20, 1873 and scarcely realize that Christmas was just five days away: The word Christmas appears in three short news articles and in no advertisements. Typical was this ad by civic leader Khleber Miller Van Zandt, who for a brief time was a dry goods merchant on the courthouse square.
By 1876 merchants were beginning to get into the Christmas spirit. This ad was in the Daily Standard of December 23.
Figs and pig’s feet: This column of one-sentence classified ads on an inside page is typical of Christmas advertising in the Daily Standard in the late 1870s. (Yes, that Pendery is an ancestor of the family whose Pendery’s World of Chiles & Spices remains in business here on 8th Avenue.)
Ah, but by the 1880s ads in the Fort Worth Gazette were much more in-your-face, such as the faces in this 1884 ad from Chase Trading Company on Houston Street.
Newspapers still used engravings instead of photographs. The bottom three are from 1885.
On December 23, 1883 Taylor & Barr dry-goods store ran this ad suggesting gifts for the woman who has everything but nothing to lace it all in to.
On Christmas Eve 1893 this front-page ad appeared for lots in the Union Depot Addition. A streetcar line served the addition, and streets were graded but would not be paved until well into the twentieth century.
Union Depot Addition is east of Kentucky Avenue and south of Vickery Boulevard. The addition includes three streets of the Five Sisters of the South Side. The 1882 T&P passenger depot, sometimes called “Union Depot,” was located where the yellow dot is on this 1907 map (near where Tower 55 is today). The 1899 T&P depot is in the upper-left corner of the map at Main and Lancaster streets. (Map detail from Pete Charlton’s “1000+ Lost Antique Maps of Texas & the Southwest on DVD-ROM.”)
By 1894 merchants were more aggressively targeting parents with ads for toys. Could many more years pass before two of Santa’s helpers named “John Marvin” and “Obie Paul” gave us Leonard’s Toyland?
Fort Worth Pharmacy in 1894: “Holiday Goods, Toilet Requisites, Leather Goods, Etc.”
W. H. Taylor clothing store in 1894.
A closeup of the W. H. Taylor ad. Note that with the purchase of a boy’s knee pants suit, shoppers received a climbing monkey toy. With purchase of a boy’s long pants suit, shoppers received a climbing monkey and fireworks, thus assuring any household of a less-than-silent night.
Another closeup of the W. H. Taylor ad showing what fashionable young people were wearing in 1894. (Show this ad to your young children or grandchildren. Warn them that if they’re naughty in the new year, next Christmas Santa will bring them clothes like these.)
Stocking stuffers: Below are the letter from Virginia O’Hanlon and the reply from the New York Sun of Christmas 1897 (from Wikipedia).