Montgomery Ward prices for women’s coats ranged from $9.95 to $49.95
This fictitious story about Christmas in 1930 was inspired by a Montgomery-Ward catalog in my collection.
The typical farm family in October and November of 1930 would probably have been thinking of Christmas despite the hard times. Mother, Grandma, the kids for sure, and maybe even Dad and Grandpa, would have been looking through the Montgomery Ward's Fall and Winter 1930-31 Catalogue, with Ben Franklin on the cover. The adults would have chosen practical gifts, even though they had some secret desires, while the younger folks were more likely to give in to "the wants," and put too much on their wish lists.
On page three of the catalog, the "Brilliant and Charming New York Society Women Who Now Serve on Ward's Fashion Board" were introduced. These worthies included, Mrs. Morgan Belmont, "one of the best dressed women in New York society" and Mrs. John Harriman, "Noted for her beauty and chic." Also featured were Miss Anne Rittenhouse, "Internationally famous stylist," as well as Miss Ethel Boston, "Ward's stylist, famous for her chic and her knowledge of what the well-dressed woman in New York accepts in fashions."
Our farm wife could only wistfully dream of ordering a black, "All Wool Trico Broadcloth" coat with "thick soft pelts of black, Wolf-dyed Manchurian Dog fur in shawl collar and pointed cuffs.” For $19.95, “milady could follow the example of every chic French woman (who) counts on (the coat) as the 'piece de resistance' of many a charming costume."
Mrs. Farmwife then may have imagined herself looking glamorous in one of the many closefitting, cloche-type hats that were priced from 79 cents to $3.95. Under the heading, "Your Figure Is As Correct As Your Corset," eight pages of undergarments, many with cruel-looking straps, laces and stays, were pictured, as well as pure silk stockings costing from 85 cents to $1.79 per pair. "With a Bow to Paris," Ward's offered frocks ranging from pure silk versions costing $13.95 to a washable cotton housedress for only 98 cents.
Mama may have dreamed of fine dining with a Rogers Brothers silver plated tableware service for 12, guaranteed for 35 years and costing $22.75, to set off a 65 piece set of Heinrich's finest imported Bavarian china for $25.95. After dinner, they could all listen to the Airline, All Electric, 7-tube radio that cost $79.50, without tubes and antenna, or $96.00 complete. “If they could only afford a self-starting Powerlite 110-volt, light plant to make their own electricity,” she dreamed, but it was out of the question at $179.75.
Coming back to earth, Mrs. Farmwife completed her short personal Christmas list. Her one indulgence, a box of Coty face powder at 89 cents, and then she turned practical with a pair of warm, wool gloves at 49 cents, and a polished steel, 12 inch skillet that cost $.62.
15 year-old Johnny hated his old knicker suit, especially since the trousers now didn’t nearly reach his knees. He longed for a new suit, like the nice wool and silk, single-breasted with a vest and two pairs of long pants for only $7.69. He could only dream of speeding along on a shiny Hawthorne Flyer bike equipped with a headlight, horn, package carrier and imitation leather tool case for $31.50. A Springfield, single-shot .22 caliber rifle at $4.29 and one or two Rover Boys or Tom Swift books at 46 cents each were added to Johnny's list as well.
Little Billy hoped for an all steel coaster wagon at $3.00, a Structo steam shovel for $1.00, a Marx wind-up crawler tractor at $.83, and an alcohol burning Weeden toy steam engine for $1.95. He really wanted an electric train but the freight set he liked cost $8.98, and besides they had no electricity to run it. Billy needed a new pen knife too, since he'd recently lost his, and a two-blader with multi-colored handles cost just 79 cents. Then there was the baseball glove that cost all of $2.69, but it had been autographed by Charlie Root, star pitcher for the Chicago Cubs.
Molly, eleven, had pored over the catalog for hours and just couldn't make up her mind; she wanted so many of the pretty things but knew there were limits. She finally decided to ask for an Effanbee Patsy doll at $2.59, a 14 piece, lithographed metal tea set for $.39, a Peter Rabbit paint set at 89 cents and an Uncle Wiggily game costing $.59. A heavy, all-wool shaker sweater and matching cap for $5.87 and a birthstone ring for $3.35 finished up Molly's list.
Grandma thought a half-dozen mercerized, white lawn hankies at $.53 would be nice, along with a warm, full length, ribbed cotton union suit at $.93. She secretly longed for a soft, comfortable, velour upholstered rocker, but it cost $23.85, while a $2.00 bottle of Evening in Paris perfume would be heavenly, although she didn't ask for it.
Grandpa allowed that a one pound tin of Granger pipe tobacco and a flannelette night shirt, each costing 89 cents, was all he wanted, but he’d been eying an Iver Johnson double barrel shotgun that sold for $25.98 and maybe, to replace his old corncob, a fancy Meerschaum pipe at $5.95.
Dad said he could use a new chambray work shirt at 59 cents, a warm, wool dress cap with ear flaps for $1.39, and some new bib overalls for $1.10. Of course, a complete pump jack outfit with a Sattley 1 1/2 H.P. gas engine ($49.85) would sure save a lot of work, and a Richardson steel casting rod and South Bend anti-backlash reel would make it easier to catch that big bass he'd been after for months. Ah well, that outfit cost $9.42.
Although set ten years later, my sister and I did the same as our fictitious Molly, Johnny and Billy, and our extensive wish lists were usually pruned drastically, just as theirs would have been. At the time, I never thought of Mom and Dad having to go without things they wanted, but I'm sure it was so.