by ehistoryadmin on August 23, 2014

Newspapers brimming with Christmas advertisements a century ago

 Liam Kenny

Traditionally the 8th of December marked the beginning of the Christmas season and was often associated with country people taking their savings from under the mattress and heading in to their nearest market town to stock up on seasonal supplies. The commercial Christmas season now seems to starts almost as soon as the Hallow’een bonfires are quenched. And while many lament the premature commercialisation of the mid-winter festival a consumerist approach was evident too in previous generations albeit less “in your face”.

Looking back to the Christmas of one hundred years ago we can form a picture of the kinds of products and purchases which formed part of the seasonal shopping list in 1913. It is interesting to ponder that while the workers of Dublin and their families had been reduced to penury by the Lockout dispute which saw many of them laid off from their workplaces, there still seemed to be spending power in the largely agricultural economy of Co Kildare. However the advertisements were mostly for goods of a practical nature and keeping warm was a priority.

The advertising columns of the Kildare Observer newspaper for the second week of December 1913 displayed advertisements from the likes of Michael Fitzsimons of South Main Street, Naas, who proclaimed his trade as “Grocer, Tea, Wine and Spirit Merchant”. He reminded readers that as usual he had a plentiful supply of “Seasonable Goods” and assured prospective purchasers that “The Quality of his Goods cannot be Questioned … a trial will convince.”

Getting well shod for the winter was an essential for those who could treat themselves to a new pair of boots. In Kilcullen James J. Byrne, shoe retailer, advertised “Let the Weather do what it likes – you will be alright if you wear – “Byrne’s Boots!”

Back in Naas sturdy apparel was on offer from a range of shop-keepers. John Jennings of North Main Street advertised that he “Begs to announce that he is now showing a Large and Fashionable selection of Winter Suitings and Waterproof  Coatings … Breeches and Leggings a speciality.” He advertised his prices as being from 40 shillings for suits and 10 shillings for trousers. However Jennings had competition from a big Dublin clothing mail-order house whose advertisement hinted at the disruption caused by the Lockout in the last few weeks of 1913. J. H. Webb & Co of Cornmaket in the city claimed that “Owing to transit troubles, the Manufacture of our Winter overcoats has been seriously delayed. In fact the Goods have come three months late and our Stocks are congested.” As a result Webbs were offering discounts to clear their autumn stock to make room for the delayed winter wear. Gents’ overcoats in frieze, fleecy and cheviot styles were on sale from 21 shillings. Webbs invited prospective purchasers to send in details of “height, chest measurement, and colour preferred … and we will please you.”

Even the best quality garments are subject to dust and dirt in the progress of everyday life but a solution was on hand again thanks to the advertising columns with the newly opened “Newbridge Sanitary Steam Laundry Co.” advertising a comprehensive laundry service proclaiming that its “Modernly Equipped Establishment is now open”.

While a good coat could help keep out the cold, being warmed up from inside was another way to fend off the winter chills. Thomas McDermott of Naas had the answer to this seasonal dilemma advertising his stock of “Jameson’s pure pot still whiskey – guaranteed 8 years old” which was sold under his own registered label. No doubt McDermott responded to a tender advertisement for the supply of Whiskey to the Naas Poor Law Union (the workhouse). The Poor Law Guardians clearly knew their whiskeys as the tender advertisement set very specific conditions for the quality of the whiskey to be supplied: “One quarter cask (containing about 30 gallons) of Pure Matured Pot-Still Whiskey not under five years, which must be accompanied by a distillery certificate”. Further “the makers name and date of distillation on the cask and the strength of the whiskey to be marked on the sample.”  Whether the whiskey was intended for medicinal use or some less noble purpose is not recorded.

Keeping a warm house was another essential in the month of December. And here housekeepers had a choice of suppliers as the coal market was well supplied with merchants with no less than three advertising in the same edition of the paper. The most widespread network of coal outlets was run by Thomas I. Llewellyn who had depots at the Market Square in Newbridge, similarly in the Curragh Camp, and the canal harbour at Naas. However he had competition from – unusually in the male dominated coal business – Miss Bridget Kiely who ran the Naas Coke and Coal Depot at the Railway Station off the Friary Road in Naas.

Keeping the theme of warmth going into the bedroom was “A.M. O’Farrell & Son who advertised “Specially good value in “Household Blankets for Single and Double Beds.” A.M. O’ Farrell had a wide range of seasonal products on offer and took out a column in the paper giving guidance to customers on how to chose the ideal Christmas gifts remarking that “The choosing of Christmas presents is at all times a difficult and troublesome task – it seems to entail endless thought and consideration.” Having detailed at length the gifts appealing to the female customers including “Daintily embroidered handkerchiefs of Irish handiwork are worthy of acceptance by the most fastidious” the column goes on to then put the male customer in his box by saying that “Though last – not least – the mere man has not been forgotten …!” Perhaps the status of “mere man” is appropriate given the general male myopia in matters fashionable but no doubt the sentiment prompted a chuckle among the newspapers’ readers in the weeks before Christmas 1913. Leinster Leader 3 December 2013, Looking Back, Series no: 360.

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