Sunday, December 8, 2013

The holiday catalogs of WWII

This time of year, mailboxes are inundated with catalogs urging us to do our holiday shopping quietly and conveniently from the comfort of home.  And apparently, that was the case during WWII, as well, despite paper rationing (and no internet, either).

Tom came back from a recent auction with a box lot of various paper goods, which he bought primarily for a Rookwood Pottery pamphlet that was in it.  But what I fell in love with was a group of Christmas catalogs from the early 1940s--and specifically, several from two department stores in Lancaster, Ohio: Wiseman's and Hammonds' (click on the pictures to enlarge them and read the catalog text, if you like).

It's interesting to see how the war impacted gift options.  The only catalog that has a specific date is this first one for Wiseman's from 1941--a Christmas that came less than three weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor that led the US to enter the war.

Notably, in December 1941 Wiseman's was still selling silk stockings:

But not once the war was in full swing, and silk was requisitioned for parachutes and other military uses:

--according to my mom, despite the glowing descriptions here, rayon stockings were awful, baggy and wrinkly…which is why many women opted to use leg makeup and draw lines up the backs of their legs during the war instead.

Wiseman's later (undated) catalog illustrates, literally, some of the other changes the war effected.  The cover is a glorious, full-color combo of Christmas and patriotic iconography…

And the offerings include such military-inspired children's toys as the "Little Officer's uniform" and a sailor doll.

For your son, brother, friend or beau fighting overseas, the catalog included a whole page of "Service Men's Gifts."

But even with all these choices, Wiseman's warned customers that not all items might be readily available:

Hammond's, another Lancaster department store, took a more subtle approach in its (undated) catalog.

There's no text or specific references to the war here, but every page of the catalog features an insert of Santa with a figure from a different branch of the service, including the WACs:

Guess that "Slackjamas" never really took off.  Pity.

These catalogs offer such a lovely, intimate insight into life during the war--the sense of people trying to continue their usual holiday traditions, of businesses trying to make the best of a time of hardship and rationing, of everyone's yearning for normalcy.  I doubt that FDR urged people to go shopping to help the war effort, unlike a more recent President did.  But clearly, retailers were putting a patriotic spin on shopping even then.

Stay tuned for more items from this box of ephemera in future posts!

No comments: