christmas 1920: season's greetings from your local department store

This is the first of a series collecting odds and ends from the Christmas and New Year's holiday season 100 years ago. Ads, editorials, recipes, and anything else that caught my eye will be featured between now and January 1.

Though not quite the dumpster fire 2020 has been, 1920 was still a turbulent time - the effects of the First World War, the upheavals of 1919, and the Spanish flu were still affecting North Americans. What you'll find in many of the items I'll feature is a sense of hope for the new year, that maybe things might be settling into a new sense of normal or are (finally) pointing toward a brighter future. 

First up, a selection of ads from a sector that was doing far better in 1920 than 2020: department stores. Their Christmas Eve/Christmas Day ads generally avoided last-minute sales in favour of uplifting messages, wishes for peace on Earth, or cozy domestic scenes.

Christmas 1920: Smith's  
Border Cities Star, December 24, 1920.

We'll start in Windsor, where Smith's thanked its customers for supporting them. C.H. Smith opened his department store in downtown Windsor in 1914, where it operated until shortly after it was purchased by Marks & Spencer in 1975. 

  Christmas 1920: John Wanamaker
Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 24, 1920.

John Wanamaker opened one of the first modern large department stores when he opened his "Grand Depot" in downtown Philadelphia in 1876. The Wanamaker's chain survived until 1995. 

  Christmas 1920: Macy's
New York Herald, December 25, 1920.

We're still a quarter-century too early for a miracle on 34th Street to occur. 

  Christmas 1920: J.N. Adam & Co.
Buffalo Express, December 25, 1920. 

I have also seen this illustration used on front pages as a generic seasonal greeting. The stores the Adam brothers established (J.N. Adam and AM&A's) competed from 1881 until J.N. Adam closed in 1960.  

  Christmas 1920: Wm. Hengerer Co.
Buffalo Express, December 25, 1920.

Buffalo-based William Hengerer Company offers the shortest, simplest message so far in this post. The chain lasted until it was folded into Sibley's in 1987.

  Christmas 1920: Marshal Field
Chicago Tribune, December 25, 1920.

Marshall Field had used this poem for its holiday ads since 1915. The "Cathedral of All the Stores" nickname stuck. 

  Christmas 1920: Hudson's
Detroit Free Press, December 25, 1920.

Ah, the days when giant department stores had their own symphony orchestras. At its peak, Hudson's downtown Detroit flagship contained over 2.1 million square feet of space, only slightly behind Macy's Herald Square store in New York. And that's only one of the staggering stats associated with this store.

While I grew up shopping in many of Hudson's suburban locations, I don't recall ever going into the downtown store, which closed in 1983. The chain was rebranded as Marshall Field's in 2001, then Macy's a few years later. 

  Christmas 1920: Liberty House (1)
Pacific Commercial Advertiser, December 25, 1920. 

Holiday greetings from Honolulu.

What is going on in that inset? Let's take a closer look..

  Christmas 1920: Liberty House (2)1920 would have been a good year for Santa to enjoy some steam from Kilauea, as the volcano was taking a break from erupting

Like many of the department stores featured here, Liberty House would eventually disappear into Macy's

  Christmas 1920: Hudson's Bay Company
Vancouver Province, December 24, 1920.

Given the business problems HBC currently finds itself it, one imagines its 250th anniversary year was brighter than its 350th. 

  Christmas 1920: Paquet  
Le Soleil, December 24, 1920.

Founded in 1850, Quebec City-based La Compagnie Paquet remained in business until 1981. It operated mail order branches across Canada. 

  Christmas 1920: Goodwin's  
Le Devoir, December 24, 1920.

Located on Montreal's St. Catherine Street shopping strip, Goodwin's operated from 1911 until it was purchased by Eaton's in 1925. Speaking of Eaton's...

  Christmas 1920: Eaton's
Regina Morning Leader, December 24, 1920.

There appears to have been two versions of this ad - one I found in the Toronto World only featured the wreath and Sir John Craig Eaton's message.

  Christmas 1920: Simpson's 
 Toronto Star, December 24, 1920.

Alas, I suspect Santa didn't distribute any scale models of Simpson's Queen Street store to youngsters that year. 


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