Our 1877 Christmas Gift Guide

Christmas shopping in the 19th century may not have been any easier than it is today, but Saturday Evening Post writers knew just what to buy.

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If you’re reading this post on your cell phone while standing, weary-footed, in a checkout line at a store, you have our sympathy. You could also have the comfort of knowing that Americans have found Christmas shopping a challenge for well over a century.

Back in 1877, American manufacturing was turning out consumer goods with unprecedented variety and speed. The selection of Christmas gifts was greater than ever. The Post helped its readers stay informed of all the new choices by reporting on appealing new items in local Philadelphia stores.

Elegant Russia leather boxes lined with satin… $10.00. Work baskets lined with silk, large and substantial ($3.00 and upwards)… Fans with pearl sticks mounted with blue and white Marabou stork trimming… $9.00.

Dolls of high and low degree, blondes, brunettes, mistress, child and maid, dressed with consummate taste and skill, dressed in materials of Fashion’s latest design designs. They cost from $2.50 and upwards, while others of less pretentious styles are as low as 50 cents.

Whatever the price of the doll, parents could be fairly certain they would please their youngster. As another Post writer observed, children were happy with any present.

All is fish that comes to their all-embracing net. Dolls, rocking-horses, marbles, balls, tops, kites, arks; it is a lovely way of finding out how brightly [their] eyes can shine. No questioning your motive, or the probable cost of your gift—no invidious comparisons with your possible presents in other quarters; they are satisfied and ecstatically happy for the time.

Men, on the other hand, were a problem, particularly bachelors:

Oh! the torment of finding a suitable male present. There are cigar cases, to be sure, in every form of elaboration and adornment, [and] the unfailing resource of a pair of slippers, or a watch-chain; and having enumerated all these, I will leave it to anybody if I have not exhausted the list. What Christmas gift can we make a gentleman?

Mittens they don’t seem to fancy… night-caps they all look like frights in—what’s to be done? He may keep the watch-chain you give him until after he is married. Some day his wife, rummaging among his old traps, will hold it up between her thumb and finger with, “What’s this thing, Bob?” Bob will reply, as he stops sharpening his razor, “That? Ha! ha! by Jove! it’s a chain a woman gave me who was once desperately in love with me; give it to Willie to play with!” Whereupon Bob and his wife laugh heartily, winding up with a kiss.

Ha, ha! Or maybe that scene will end with a flurry of new questions from the wife about that woman.


The Post’s fashion editor in 1877, Olive King, had a gift idea for men who already had enough dressing gowns and slippers: the smoking jacket.

Oscar Wilde in his smoking jacket—a gift from his greatest admirer: himself.

Never before this seasons have they been brought out in such perfection and elegance.

The most beautiful and expensive ones are of Lyons velvet with collar, cuffs, and lining of quilted satin in blue or scarlet.

They are cut in loose sack form, and are stylish, costly, and comfortable.

It is a fine present from a wife to a beloved husband, because you see it is all in the family.

And if the aforementioned beloved husband don’t behave himself, the aforementioned wife can cut it up into a magnificent cloak for herself.

She also happily suggested fashionable items that husbands should consider for their wives:

Double bracelets are now all the rage—one worn at the wrist, the other above the elbow, fastened together by a heavy chain. [Really?]

Six button gloves [mid-forearm length] are the only one considered comme il faut for full dress.

Yellow and blue are the favorite combination of color for reception dresses this season.

Another Post writer assumed there wasn’t a husband alive who, at Christmas time, wouldn’t think “I wish there was anything half pretty enough, or good enough for my faithful, true wife.” If such a wretched husband did exist, the writer continued —

may he always arrive at the ferry just as the boat is out of jumping distance, may his umbrella turn inside out when he tries to hold it right side up; may bank hours be over when he wants a check cashed; may his baby cry persistently and uproariously all Sunday, while he is at home trying to enjoy himself; and may he lose his pocket handkerchief some 25th of December, when he has a cold.

What then, did the Post recommend as the ideal gift in 1877? This suggestion appeared in the Nov. 24, 1877, issue. We reprint it for the sake of historic accuracy.

A year’s subscription to a weekly literary and family newspaper, such as the Saturday Evening Post, is always relished, as it has a permanent value, and, arriving every week with its fresh and varied banquet ornamental food, is a perpetual reminder of the kindness, thoughtfulness and good wishes of the giver.

Don’t look at us that way; we’re just including this for the sake of history.

Other presents are forgotten and are allowed to lie around in out-of-the-way corners, but such is not the case with the literary newspaper. On the whole, we know of no more suitable gift than a year’s subscription to a journal, and such of our patrons as feel inclined to present their friends with the Post will find us ready to fill all order they may send.

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  1. These were very good comments –lots to be said about a gift– but, one thing to remember – no matter what you earned , you could get hours of entertainment out of The Saturday Evening Post and it was only .05 cents then.What else could you get for that price?

  2. When you look back–
    when you are old–
    will you recall
    what you were told?

    Save a penny!
    Save a dime!
    You can be sure
    that over time

    Your needs will grow.
    You’ll want more things!
    No matter what
    The future brings.

    Save some now
    and say a prayer
    That when you’re old
    It will still be there.

    (Have a doggerel new year.)

  3. Very clever, posting and ad for Saturday Evening Post. The Average earn almost nothing. Didn’t get paid by the hour, but often by the week. A Lawman
    was paid $25/ month in some cases. A worker who could find work $ 5/ wk.
    Working on the railroad could recieve $10/wk. Some of those seem LOL, think
    about what works made, then & now. They were not cheap but costly.

  4. The Saturday Evening Post
    Deemed itself as the ideal gift.
    ‘Twas a 19th century boast
    For a Christmas give and get lift.
    Of course back then ’twas weekly sent,
    Not a bimonthly waiting spell,
    So ’twas a pleasant timed event,
    And not hard for the Post to sell.
    Today the Post has to compete
    With countless magazines to make
    A Christmas deal that’s Santa sweet
    To stay in biz for old Ben’s sake.

    Ben Franklin still subscribes divine,
    Reading the latest Post online.

  5. Very interesting. Giving the Post wasn’t a bad idea, sounds a lot better than that double bracelet or a watch chain. Even in 1877, Christmas shopping could be a problem.

  6. It would be interesting to know what the average worker earned then to get an idea of the cost of these gift suggestions.


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