From lighting a real candle on the branch of an indoor Christmas tree, to a well-dressed family singing carols on a stairwell in the home, this lovely collection of nostalgic photos reveal how children from a bygone era celebrated the festive season.
A little girl and her Saint Bernard deliver a present at Christmas, circa 1910s.
Children carrying holly and mistletoe, London, December 1915.
Take a look at Macy’s best-selling holiday gifts of 1948—which LIFE compiled, along with the number of each item sold and at what price—and it’s immediately apparent that things have changed since then.
For starters, the gifts then skewed more toward the practical.
Such everyday items as a pair of nylons or a ballpoint pen, the department store’s third- and fourth-highest-selling items that season, may ignite little excitement in today’s gift receiver, who has been conditioned to want little more than the latest Apple product.
Second, there is a conspicuous absence of anything technological, whereas nearly seven decades later, more than two thirds of holiday shoppers plan to purchase electronics for their loved ones.
Then again, the rise of personal technology was still decades away, as these were the days when fewer than 10% of households even had a TV set.
Rather than instruments of entertainment, gift-givers wrapped up objects that were wearable or edible, and immediately usable: a pair of pajamas, a bottle of scotch or that perennial favourite, some sturdy slippers.
Basic, to be sure—but sure to be put to frequent use.
I remember Columbines that came in a long blue packet and each lolly was individually wrapped in a blue silver paper.
Jaffas (See Image Above) were made by a company called Sweetacres and came in a cardboard box. They were ideal for rolling down the aisle of the local picture theatre during the Saturday afternoon matinee.
There was gob-stoppers and conversation lollies, all-day suckers and fruit tingles. We used to buy nigger blocks (no offence intended), four in a square and from memory they use to cost 1d.
There was Hoadley’s Polly Waffle and the original Violet Crumble bars, Minties and Fantales came in boxes not plastic or cellophane bags.
There was Wrigleys Juicy Fruit and PK chewing gum in little packs of four pellets and from memory they were tuppence each.
Haven’t had a Polly Waffle for years and Violet Crumble is definitely not the same anymore.
There was sherberts that came in a white packet that had a licorice straw and MacRobertsons made the original Freddo frog, barley sugars, Cherry Ripes and Old Gold chocolate.
Allens had Tootie Frooty and Steam Rollers in those little cylinder packs and they also made packets of Coconut Quivers.
There were Choo Choo Bars and Red Skins, White Knights and Milko, Life Savers came in all sorts of flavours including Musk.
And remember going to the corner shop to buy 6d worth of assorted lollies in a bag?
The Phenakistoscope — a popular Victorian parlour toy, generally marketed for children — is widely considered to be among the earliest forms of animation and the precursor to modern cinema.
The device was operated by spinning the cardboard disc, and viewing the reflection of the image in a mirror through a series of moving slits. Through the distortion and flicker, the disc created the illusion that the image was moving.
Women danced, men bowed, and animals leapt in short, repeating animations.
Many scientists of the era had been experimenting with optical illusions, photography, and image projections, and there was something inevitable about the creation of this device, having been simultaneously invented in 1832, by Joseph Plateau in Brussels and by Simon von Stampfer in Berlin.
Plateau was a physicist, but his father had been a painter and illustrator who had enrolled his son at the Academy of Design in Brussels. Although Plateau eventually ended up pursuing science instead, he retained an interest in art and design that proved useful when creating the prototype Phenakistoscope.
Plateau’s original designs were hand-painted by himself, an example of the frequent intersection of Victorian artistry with experimental scientific media that defined the period.
Only weeks later, unaware of Plateau’s creation, von Stampfer, a mathematician, developed a near-identical device that he named the Stroboscope.
The device proved popular, and was soon mass-produced and marketed under some more easily-pronounceable names, including Phantasmascope, Fantoscope, and even the prosaic “Magic Wheel”.
The Brighton and Rottingdean Seashore Electric Railway was a unique coastline railway in Brighton, England that ran through the shallow waters of the English Channel between 1896 and 1901.
Magnus Volk, its owner, designer and engineer, had already been successful with the more conventional Volk’s Electric Railway, which had then not been extended east of Paston Place.
Facing unfavourable geography, Volk decided to construct a line through the surf from a pier at Paston Place to one at Rottingdean.
The tracks were laid on concrete sleepers mortised into the bedrock, and the single car used on the railway, a huge pier-like building which stood on four 23 ft (7.0 m)-long legs, was propelled by electric motor.
It was officially named Pioneer, but many called it Daddy Long-Legs.
Construction took two years from 1894 to 1896. The railway officially opened 28 November 1896, but was nearly destroyed by a storm the night of 4 December.
Volk immediately set to rebuilding the railway including the Pioneer, which had been knocked on its side, and it reopened in July 1897.
In 1900 the council decided to build a beach protection barrier, which unfortunately required Volk to divert his line around the barrier.
Without funds to do so, Volk closed the railway. A model of the railway car is on display (along with a poster for the railway) in the foyer of the Brighton Toy and Model Museum. (Text from Wikipedia.)
Horse and buggies, hoop skirts, steam engines, bustles … oh, yes, life around the turn of the previous century was a delight of simplicity and workmanship. But that doesn’t mean that the artisans and engineers of way-back-when didn’t at least have their hearts and minds in the right place.
Linear Index Typewriters and “Typewritors”
One of the earliest of those bright bulbs was William Austin Burt who, in 1829, created what he called a ‘typewritor.’
If Burt’s machine was, in fact, the first is a matter of much debate – as another, similar, machine had also been built by Pellegrino Turri around the same time. Some even say the crown of ‘first’ should go to Henry Mill, who created a writing machine way back in 1714.
All of these devices represented just baby steps: more potential than actual ability to help with clear, concise and fast writing. There were a lot of others after these early pioneers, but none of them were ever a real commercial success.
Looking at them you can see why: in many of these very early models – called ‘index typewriters,’ by the way – the typing was done by selecting the letter to be used on a slider and then pressing it against the paper.
To call these early monsters ‘slow’ is being kind.
Changing the alphabetical slider to a disc version helped a bit but not enough to make any of these machines easy or popular.
Here is a “Linear Typewriter”: one look at this machine and you can see why it was never a big hit. Just think about transcribing anything on this beast: