Building Beginnings

Historical records

  • Christmas gifts

    If you had been browsing your local newspaper a hundred years ago this week you might have been tempted by some of the delightful Christmas gift ideas on offer during the Great War.

    Handkerchiefs are always welcome’ ran one advert in the Lichfield Mercury. ‘Could any gift be more acceptable – and don’t forget that a man is ALWAYS short of handkerchiefs careless person that he is!’. Handkerchiefs could be had in linen and lace, featuring flowers, animals, soldiers, or nursery tales all attractively folded in a presentation box. Motor scarves, smoking jackets and silk pyjamas could ‘solve the most difficult of gift problems’ if handkerchiefs didn’t cut the mustard.

    Meccano, or ‘toy engineering for boys’ as it was called, was a ‘simple, fascinating and instructive hobby for boys. Without study he will be able to build scores of working models, tanks, cranes, printing machines, towers, looms and more’.

    At the more practical end of gifts were aprons, coats, leggings, sou’westers, loin cloths and nosebags – the latter two presumably being for your horse. The Cheshire Observer also had gift suggestions for your staff such as ‘maids’ aprons (hand-embroidered or plain) and pretty caps to match’.

    Gifts for the home were in abundance: tea cosies in artificial silk and satin, fancy pin cushions in a variety of dainty styles, tray cloths (‘obviously giftable’), inkstands, candlesticks and writing cases, as well as palm stands, music racks and smokers’ cabinets (to smoke in?).

    As tea was in short supply during the war, grocers tried to convince people to drink coffee instead, ‘Today coffee is the cheapest beverage … you can make two gallons of this delicious beverage [for] 1½d per pint – warming, refreshing, invigorating’.

    For the ultimate unusual gift for a loved one having difficulty chewing the turkey, you could have stumped up a shilling to the People’s Teeth Association who would carry out ‘painless extractions’ and for a further £2 12s 6d furnish you with a complete set of dentures, ‘perfect fit and workmanship’ guaranteed.

    Merry Christmas.

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