#MyrtleMondays: Holiday Commercialism in the 1800s

Have you started your holiday shopping yet? We’re only a week into November, but commercials, holiday movies, and news about supply chain issues might have you already feeling behind! It’s been more than fifty years since Charlie Brown bemoaned the commercialism of Christmas, but his complaint was old even then. Let’s take a look at the commercial side of Yuletide during the Victorian era.

How else would I start such a post, than with an advert?

Myrtle Hardcastle Mysteries #3Cold-Blooded Myrtle takes place during an Exceptionally Victorian Christmas, and a local shop’s holiday display forms the centerpiece of the plot. Many parts of our modern Christmas celebrations evolved during the 19th century—and that includes the pressure from advertising.

French newspaper L’Illustration’s 1893 Christmas edition feels strikingly modern, with its art nouveau herald angels.

Shops like Leighton’s Mercantile in Cold-Blooded Myrtle were eager to capitalize on two powerful forces driving Victorian consumers: novelty and nostalgia, and shopkeepers were quick to recognize that Christmas equals shopping!

Christmas advert for Spaulding & Woodruff in Leadville, Colorado, 1880. Leadville was a remote frontier town, but it was enjoying an economic boom thanks to the discovery of silver in local mines.

American toy giant FAO Schwarz had already been in business for thirty-five years when they opened their 23rd street location in NYC in 1897.

Shoppers cluster around a toystore window in this 1880s illustration. Note the “Holiday goods of every description.”

New York City shoppers in the 1910s, showing that the pastime of Christmas window shopping was here to stay.

For many Americans, Christmas is inextricably linked with Macy’s department store in New York City, thanks to their department store Santa, immortalized in 1947’s “Miracle on 34th Street.” This image from 1899 shows that the holiday crowds had been gathering for half a century before that.

American toy and book publisher McLoughlin Bros. repackaged several of their popular games in a special holiday edition (1890)

Should you be short of ideas, department stores like H. O’Neill were ready to help!


English confectioner Tom Smith pioneered the traditional Christmas cracker, filled with sweets, novelties, and toy prizes. The clothes place this image around 1900–but Smith knew the power of nostalgia, and it could well be later.

An even more exuberant catalogue from Tom Smith’s, circa 1911.


And if nostalgia’s not your jam, we’ve got bleeding edge Modern Conveniences for your Christmas celebrations.

Myrtle would be overjoyed if Father Christmas brought her a telephone…

All merriment aside, supply chain issues are very real this holiday season, and they do affect the bookselling industry. Make sure you get your orders in on time for your favorite bookseller to stock your items!

And, why, no, I haven’t started shopping yet. Why do you ask?