Vintage Ads: Popular Presents from the 1900s

120 years ago, many of the most desired gifts were a little different than what’s on the wish lists of today.

Kodak advertisement featuring a woman in a winter coat and hat

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In 1900, a fortnight meant two weeks and a talking machine didn’t involve Alexa. Gifts – and the advertisements for them – have changed a lot since then. Here’s a look back at advertisements for some of the most popular gifts of the 1900s.

Little girl standing next to a vintage Victor record player
Victor Talking Machine
December 7, 1901

This ad appeared shortly after the Victor Talking Machine Company was incorporated. The more familiar “Victrola” brand was introduced five years later, in 1906, and was the most popular home phonograph brand for decades.


Man in a winter coat pulling a camera out of his pocket
December 8, 1900

In 1898, Kodak started selling the Folding Pocket Camera, the ancestor of all modern roll-film cameras. This camera also introduced the 2¼” x 3¼” picture size, which proved very popular.


Kodak advertisement featuring a woman in a winter coat and hat
December 7, 1901

Kodak cameras, which had been created by George Eastman in 1888, had just released its lower-priced Brownie model the year before this ad appeared. The Brownie created a new mass market for photography, and 1901 was one of the first Christmas seasons that put a camera within almost everyone’s reach.


An advertisement for watch chains, featuring a profile of a woman on a coin face
Simmons Watch Chains
December 7, 1901

R.F. Simmons Company was founded in 1873 in Attleboro, Massachusetts. Simmons claimed to be the first jeweler to issue a chain catalogue, the first to stamp jewelry with the manufacturer’s initials, the first to offer a satisfaction guarantee, and the first to use a safety fastener.


A young boy holds a rifle he got for Christmas under the tree while his younger brother looks on
Stevens Rifles
December 6, 1902

In the early 20th century, Stevens was one of the largest firearms manufacturers in the United States. The company was purchased by New England Westinghouse, specifically to provide rifles to the Russian Czar and his army during World War I. After the Czar fell and the bill went unpaid, the company fell into financial distress. Despite a few rough patches, the company continues to make firearms under the Stevens name today.


A toy wagon in front of a brick fireplace
Studebaker Junior
December 2, 1905

This child-size version of the Studebaker farm wagon was a popular (and pricey) toy in the early 20th century. Studebaker debuted its first automobile a year later.


An advertisement for toys depicting various circus performers and animals
Humpty Dumpty Circus Toys
December 2, 1905

The Philadelphia-based A. Schoenhut Company sold this popular circus set from 1903 to 1935. Early versions such as this one featured animals with glass eyes and real hair. The figures had articulated limbs held together with elastic bands that allowed them to be posed in different positions. By 1912, Schoenhut was the largest toy company in the United States.


Advertisement for fountain pens, featuring illustrations of the pens.
Parker Fountain Pens
December 4, 1909

Parker Pens was founded in 1888 and continues to produce writing instruments today, although fountain pens have fallen out of favor with all except the most tradition-bound. The pens in this advertisement are worth considerably more today, and can sell for upwards of several thousand dollars.


Advertisement for a bottle of perfume
Ed. Pinaud’s Lilac Vegetal
December 4, 1909

Perfume has always been a traditional gift, but this one has a unique twist. Edouard Penaud ostensibly created Lilac Vegetal as an aftershave for the Hungarian cavalry.


Advertisement for pocket watches
Elgin Pocket Watches
December 4, 1909

Elgin National Watch Company produced watches for 100 years, manufacturing more than 60 million of them between 1864 and 1968. Pocket watches were the standard timepiece in 1909. Elgin was one of the first companies to make a wristwatch, which they started selling a year later.

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  1. These are great, love the way that the website is laid out.
    I remember how excited I was when I got my first fountain pen and I still have it now!
    My father used to have an Elgin time watch.

  2. An interesting group of ads we have here. The top ad for the Victor Talking Machine is advanced for 1901 and how accelerated technology was already becoming.

    The Studebaker Junior and Humpty Dumpty Circus Toys are interesting too. Elgin seemed to offer watches for most budgets. $150 is a still a lot for a watch now; frankly outrageous for 1909, except (I guess) for the the very wealthy.

    The Stevens rifle ad I find horrifying and chilling, but apparently was okay back then. My uncle (Mom’s older brother) was accidentally killed by a gun like this at a friends house in 1938 when he was 15. Even though it was 19 years before I was born, the incident has always haunted me.


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