Christmas is nearly upon us, and what better way to shop (in 1900) than using a catalogue to browse the inventory of a store?
I found it on vintageadbrowser, which has many amazing advertisements scanned in great clarity.
This is a 24 page catalogue book put out by H. O’Neill & Co., New York.
Hugh O’Neill was an entrepreneur and the head of this successful department store. He was born in Belfast in 1843, and his family moved to New York when he was fourteen years old. With his brother as partner, he founded their dry goods store in 1867. Over twenty years, more adjoining land was purchased, until the present building, which is still standing, was erected. It takes up the whole block between 20th and 21st streets, and is five stories tall. O’Neill died in 1902, and the store closed in 1907, as his beneficiaries found it impossible to keep the store afloat. It was merged with another prominent store, Adams Dry Goods Store, but both businesses were gone before the advent of World War I. The building is now a condominium, but retains its as-original-as-possible exterior.
O’Neill’s was a prominent part of what was called Ladies’ Mile in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Let’s take a step back in time and admire a beautiful catalogue from the turn of the last century.
They really knew how to make a cover beautiful, with a very wintery and festive image on the front cover. The first thing we see is a tree sparrow sitting on a branch of holly leaves. The holly leaves are covered with snow to complete the icy illustration.
In addition, even the headings are covered with snow. It reads “Christmas 1900 – Gift Book – A Few Timely Hints for Christmas Shoppers from – H. O’Neill & Co – Sixth Avenue 20th to 21st Street – New York.”
The inside page reminds us that, when ordering by mail, to send cash, money order or draft with your order, because it often saves extra correspondence and delay. That’s a smart, but necessary warning. I think that was for convenience to the customer, but also might be a marketing ploy to secure the purchase as soon as possible.
Your purchases are even delivered free, with exception of sewing machines, to any railroad station or express office within 100 miles of New York City. Wow! That amount of distance is amazing. I wonder why sewing machines were the exception?
They also do not send goods on approbation or subject to inspection, for they guarantee everything as represented.
The opposite page has a pretty illustration of a lady in fine clothing, accompanied by a cupid child. Maybe he is wondering why she is so happy. Why, she has shopped at O’Neill’s, that’s why!
Under this illustration is stated:
Anything that makes the buying of Holiday Gifts a pleasure instead of a task is welcome at this season. This Brochure is calculated to give timely suggestions for holiday giving, and, while it is only an index of a great store’s capacity, it gives helpful hints and shows that low prices prevail on all classes of holiday merchandise.
This is proof that things haven’t changed all that much. Then as even now, people have always shopped and wanted to save money in the process. If you have to shop for that special someone, why not do it at reasonable prices?
On the following page starts the advertising. They are jackets for women and girls. It’s interesting that they insert real photographed heads on the drawings of their merchandise.
On the opposite page are the descriptions. Of course these jackets and warm accessories are real fur – what else? These furs were seal, red fox, lamb, opossum, mink, but I see one sable that says ‘imitation’. The polar bear climbing the rocks in the top left corner is a strange choice of illustration. I think a fox or a seal or a opossum would have been more fitting.
(Before writing this post, I was not aware that sable was an animal. I had only heard about the car. Is the fur what she’s really talking about in the song Santa Baby? I’d always assumed it was the car.)
Number 1 is very expensive. I wonder if anyone ordered that? In today’s dollars, that would be $1457 according to the inflation calculator! On this page, I like the look of Number 4.
On the bottom of the page is listed table covers, sofa cushions, rugs, lace curtains that are ‘suitable for holiday gifts’.
The next page states that smoking jackets, house coats, bath robes, and more are on the second floor. I guess they couldn’t get men to pose for these designs, as these heads are fully illustrated. I think Number 1 is snazzy.
The next page lists handkerchiefs for both women and men. They are on the main floor, and O’Neill’s has the largest and best selected holiday stock of handkerchiefs in New York. There is a happy lady perusing a booklet in the corner. It is presumably O’Neill’s fine catalogue. On the bottom right corner is a package. They probably gift wrap, too!
The next page shows shown various dishes.
The description page calls all of these silverware, which is on the main floor. Now, when I think silverware, I think utensils only, but these dishes are made of silver, so it is labeled such on the next page. I like Number 4.
I had to google Wave Crest Ware, and it is very beautiful!
Next they picture some very beautiful toiletries. I didn’t know what many of them were until the next page with the descriptions.
I would love to have (and have a need for) Number 1, the sterling silver embossed bonnet brush. I’d also take Number 25, and 28.
Now come the lamps! They came in all sorts of shapes and colors. I like Number 7 and Number 8.
These lamps were on the second floor. I just realized that if we wanted to, we could easily recreate the shop the way it was originally. We even know which floor everything was on! Picture frames are also listed on this page.
Leather goods are on the next page. I like the look of Number 1.
These leather goods are just that – real leather. Placed on the main floor, they are seal, alligator, pig skin, and monkey skin! Yikes. I’d probably not buy anything that was real animal fur, even at the normal things, but monkey skin? is just extra creepy to me.
On the third floor we have cameras! a neat-looking camera is pictured on the top left. The cameras listed do not have pictures (you’d think they would… they’re advertising the very thing that takes photos. I think they missed an opportunity there!
On the bottom is advertised ‘golf goods, footballs, etc.’ They also have velocipedes and tricycles!
Oh! the next page has pictured 12 clocks. Cool! I’d pick Number 1 and 4.
On the description page, you’d think they would state what figure is on the clock. They didn’t.
This next page has the most that I’d pick out of a page so fare! Numbers 6, 10, 13, and 15 are my choices. O’Neill’s furniture is beautiful!
The furniture was on the third and fourth floors. I think the statement on top is sort of lack-luster. ‘A choice piece of Furniture will make an acceptable Christmas Gift.’ I wouldn’t want to buy something ‘acceptable’! I want to buy something ‘perfect’!
China and glassware is pictured on the next page! I find Numbers 3, 6, 10, 11, and 17 appealing.
On this next description page, there is a better word than previously used. ‘Suitable’. I like this usage better than the word ‘acceptable’. The china, glassware, and chafing dishes were located in the basement!
On the next page we discover that they have a dining room! Located on the Fourth floor, it looks fancy and very festively decorated. I wonder what was on the menu!
I really love that we get so much detail in this catalogue. This next page tells of the times that their wagons depart at for deliveries. It puts me into a dream-like state to imaging what it might have been like to be a driver or a passer-by of the horse and buggy wagon that would have delivered the treasures to their destinations. The top illustration on this page looks like a packing station.
Of course, as they say, all good things must come to an end, and this is the back cover of our catalogue. It is a full color lovely artist’s rendering of a corner of the O’Neill building, peeking out of what I can only assume is snow-covered grass.
In all, if I were to buy everything that I picked out in this catalogue, it would cost $147.56 in the year 1900. In 2017, that would be $4410.36! That would be one nice Christmas!
I had a lot of fun writing this post! I’m actually kind of sad that it’s finished! I’d love to hear what you’d pick out from this catalogue. List your picks in the comments!