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The Season for Giving

Dec 22, 2009 11:02 AM | 0 comments

As this is the season for giving, it seemed timely to look at  a few of the gifts Brooklynites of yore might have offered to one another. Our growing collection of trade catalogs contains not only lists of screws, greenhouses, surgical instruments and the like, but also catalogs from department stores, furriers and all kinds of other traders. In search of holiday gifts just now I came upon the 1889 catalog of Wechsler and Abraham, the forerunner of Abraham and Strauss, now Macy's on Fulton Street. As this is my year for giving gloves, of which one can never have too many, I turned to that page.  You could get a pair of cashmere gloves for a quarter but they wouldn't be much use in a Brooklyn winter. I'd rather go for the "Women's fleeced gloves in Taffeta silk, plush lined, extra quality" for $0.75 or going further upscale, "cable stitched nutria fur at $1.25."  Gentlemen could have "beaver fur, spring top, cablestitched, embroidered gloves" for $2.00 or rugged-looking Orinoco gloves made from "oil tan stock, English fleece lined," for $0.75.

Gloves from Wechsler and Abraham, 1889

I  liked the look of the Gents Fixings page, but you would have to be rather intimate with a gentleman before offering suspenders I think.

Gents Fixings, Wechsler and Abraham catalog 1889

A less personal but more costly gift would be an umbrella.  These handles could be used for umbrellas, canes or riding crops with prices ranging from $0.75 to $25.  The bottom row in the illustration is "14 Karat gold plate, nicely carved; made up on choice twill silk, paragon frame, best finish etc, 26 inch $3.75." Now there's a bargain if ever there was one.

If you really wanted to impress your girlfriend with an extravagant gift, you might want to go to the Balch Price Company at 376-378 Fulton Street and 14-18 Smith Street. Our catalog for this store dates from 1914, but the company was established in 1832. Some of these coats are so expensive the prices are not shown, but this little skunk set retailed at only $65. I am not sure what a gift of skunk would say about your feelings for the recipient but it's certainly a stylish little outfit (although I am compelled to add that it looks even more dapper on the skunk .)

Skunk Set, Balch Price Co 1914

If all of this is getting a bit rich for you, let's turn to stocking fillers. Silver's and Co of 304-314 Hewes Street put out a lovely undated catalog some time around 1900.  This manufacturer of kitchen furnishing goods and household inventions produced so many gadgets that even the most frugal and practical of cooks would be seduced. 

Who could object to the Brooklyn Egg Timer, for example? I'd consider the gift of a life free of runny boiled eggs to be a very thoughtful one.  The Brooklyn Egg Timer is "made of Bohemian glass with a sifted clear yellow imported time glass sand, that is absolutely reliable, never clogging, never stopping. ...the egg may be timed to a nicety. Each egg timer is very accurately made and tested..."  

And talking of stocking fillers, you know what I really miss? Handkerchiefs. No one gives them any more, but I remember very well being given boxes of seven handkerchiefs, printed with a picture for every day of the week, and how special it felt to tuck your little Monday handkerchief into your pocket and head off to school.  Or a box of three larger monogrammed handkerchiefs was a perfectly acceptable gift for Uncle Jack, who must have had drawers full of them but always acted grateful. Wechsler and Abraham had scores of inexpensive handkerchief designs, hemstitched, embroidered, lace edged, initialled, silk, mourning, with colored borders, scalloped edged, with Mexican work on fine linen cambric and on and on. Thanks to Wechsler and Abraham I now have my handkerchief fix for the year.