Combing a catalog to make the perfect list

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The establishment of the Montgomery Ward & Co. by Robert N. Dennis (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://commons. wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_establilshment_of_the_Montgomery_Ward_%26_Co.,_one_of_the_sights_of_the_city, _Chicago,_Ill.,_U.S.A,_from_Robert_N._Dennis_collection_of_stereoscopic_views.jpg)], via Wikimedia Commons

It’s nearly Christmas time again and for my Christmas column I think I’ll begin an “every ten years” tradition. This fictitious story about Christmas in 1930 appeared in Rusty Iron in 1996, 2006, and now, again, in 2016.

The typical farm family in October and November of 1930 would probably have been thinking of Christmas, despite the hard times.

Mother, grandma and the kids, and maybe even dad and grandpa, might have been poring over Montgomery Ward’s Fall and Winter 1930-31 Catalogue with Ben Franklin on the cover.

The adults would have chosen practical gifts, even though they may have had some secret desires, while the younger folks were more likely to give in to “the wants,” and put too much on their wish lists.

On page 3 of the catalog, the “Brilliant and Charming New York Society Women Who Now Serve on Ward’s Fashion Board” were introduced.

These worthies included, Mrs. Morgan Belmont, “one of the best dressed women in New York society” and Mrs. John Harriman, “noted for her beauty and chic.”

Also featured were Miss Anne Rittenhouse, “internationally famous stylist,” as well as Miss Ethel Boston, “Ward’s stylist, famous for her chic and her knowledge of what the well-dressed woman in New York accepts in fashions.”

Our farm wife could dream of ordering a black, “All Wool Trico Broadcloth” coat with “thick soft pelts of black, Wolf-dyed Manchurian Dog fur in shawl collar and pointed cuffs.”

For only $19.95, milady could follow the example of “every chic French woman (who) counts on (the coat) as the ‘piece de resistance’ of many a charming costume.”

Mrs. Farmwife then may have imagined herself looking glamorous in one of the many closefitting, cloche-type hats that were priced from $3.95 to 79 cents. Under the heading, “Your Figure Is As Correct As Your Corset,” eight pages of undergarments, many with cruel-looking straps, laces and stays, were pictured, as well as pure silk stockings costing from 85 cents to $1.79 per pair.

“With a Bow to Paris,” Ward’s offered frocks ranging from pure silk versions costing $13.95 to a washable cotton housedress for only 98 cents.

Mama may have dreamed of fine dining with a Rogers Brothers silver plated tableware service for 12, guaranteed for 35 years and costing only $22.75, to set off the 65 piece set of Heinrich’s finest imported Bavarian china for $25.95.

After dinner, they could all listen to the Airline, All Electric, 7-tube radio that cost $79.50 without tubes and antenna, or just $96.00 complete.

If they could only afford a self-starting Powerlite 110-volt, light plant to make their own electricity, she dreamed, but it was out of the question at $179.75.

Coming back to earth, our farmwife completed her short personal Christmas list. Her one indulgence, a box of Coty face powder at 89 cents and then turning practical, a pair of warm, wool gloves at 49 cents, and a polished steel, 12 inch skillet that cost $.62.

Fifteen-year-old Johnny hated his old knicker suit, especially since the trousers now didn’t reach his knees. He longed for a new suit like the nice wool and silk, single-breasted with a vest and two pairs of long pants for only $7.69.

He also dreamed of speeding along on a Hawthorne Flyer bike equipped with a headlight, horn, package carrier and tool case for $31.50.

A Springfield, single-shot .22 caliber rifle at $4.29, along with one or two Rover Boys or Tom Swift books at 46 cents each, were on Johnny’s list as well.

Little Billy hoped for an all steel coaster wagon at $3, a Structo steam shovel for $1, a Marx wind-up crawler tractor at $.83, and an alcohol burning Weeden toy steam engine for $1.95. He really wanted an electric train but the freight set he liked cost $8.98, and besides they had no electricity to run it.

Billy needed a new pen knife too, since he’d recently lost his, and a two-blader with multi-colored handles cost just 79 cents.

Then there was the baseball glove that cost all of $2.69, but it had been autographed by Charlie Root, star pitcher for the Chicago Cubs.

Molly, eleven, had pored over the catalog for hours and just couldn’t make up her mind; she wanted so many of the pretty things but knew there were limits. She finally decided to ask for an Effanbee Patsy doll at $2.59, a 14 piece, lithographed metal tea set for $.39, a Peter Rabbit paint set at $.89 and an Uncle Wiggily game costing $.59.

A heavy, all-wool shaker sweater and matching cap for $5.87 and a birthstone ring for $3.35 finished up Molly’s list.

Grandma thought half a dozen mercerized, white lawn hankies at $.53 would be nice, along with a warm, full length, ribbed cotton union suit at $.93.

She secretly longed for a soft, comfortable, velour upholstered rocker, but it cost $23.85, while a $2 bottle of Evening in Paris perfume would be heavenly, although she didn’t ask for it.

Grandpa allowed that a one pound tin of Granger pipe tobacco and a flannelette night shirt, each costing 89 cents, was all he wanted, but he’d been eying the Iver Johnson double barrel shotgun that sold for $25.98 and maybe, to replace his old corncob, a fancy Meerschaum pipe at $5.95.

Dad said he could use a new chambray work shirt at 59 cents, a wool dress cap with ear flaps for $1.39, and some new bib overalls for $1.10.

Of course, a complete pump jack outfit with a Sattley 1 1/2 H.P. gas engine ($49.85) would sure save a lot of work, and a Richardson steel casting rod and South Bend anti-backlash reel would make it easier to catch that big bass he’d been after for months. Ah well, that outfit cost $9.42.

My sister and I devoured the Sears Christmas catalog as kids, and our extensive wish lists were usually pruned drastically, just as those of our fictitious Molly, Johnny and Billy would have been.

Somehow, at the time, I never thought of Mom and Dad not being able to afford things they wanted, but I’m sure it was so.

Merry Christmas!

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Sam Moore grew up on a family farm in Western Pennsylvania during the late 1930s and the 1940s. Although he left the farm in 1953, it never left him. He now lives near Salem, where he tinkers with a few old tractors, collects old farm literature, and writes about old machinery, farming practices and personal experiences for Farm and Dairy, as well as Farm Collector and Rural Heritage magazines. He has published one book about farm machinery, titled Implements for Farming with Horses and Mules.

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