A typical farm family in the fall of 1930 would probably have been thinking of Christmas, despite the hard times. Mother, Grandma and the kids, and maybe even Dad and Grandpa, would have pored over Montgomery Ward’s Fall and Winter 1930-31 catalog with Ben Franklin on the cover. The adults would have chosen practical gifts, even though they may have 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 3 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 might 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 just $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 eight pages of 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 were pictured, as well as pure silk stockings costing from 85 cents to $1.79 a pair. “With a Bow to Paris,” Ward’s offered frocks ranging from a pure silk ($13.95) to a washable cotton (98 cents). She 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 complement the 65-piece set of imported Bavarian china for $25.95. After dinner, they could listen to the Airline seven-tube radio that cost a whopping $96 (complete with tubes and antenna). If only they could afford a self-starting Powerlite, 110-volt light plant to make their own electricity, she thought, but it was out of the question at $179.95.
Coming back to earth, our farmwife completed her own short Christmas list. Her one indulgence: a box of Coty face powder at 89 cents, and then, turning practical, a pair of warm, wool gloves at 49 cents, and a polished steel 12-inch skillet that cost 62 cents.
Fifteen-year-old Johnny hated his old knicker suit, especially since the trousers now hardly reached his knees. He longed for a new suit like the nice wool and silk, single-breasted one with a vest and two pairs of long pants for only $7.69. He also dreamed of speeding along on a Hawthorne Flyer bike equipped with a headlight, horn, package carrier and tool case, all for $31.50. A Springfield, single-shot .22 rifle at $4.29, along with a couple of Rover Boys or Tom Swift books at 46 cents each, finished Johnny’s list.
Little Billy hoped for an all-steel coaster wagon at $3, a Structo steam shovel for $1, a Marx wind-up crawler tractor at 83 cents, and an alcohol-burning Weeden toy steam engine for $1.95. He really wanted an electric train, but the freight train he liked cost $8.89, 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, 11, 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 cents, a Peter Rabbit paint set at 89 cents, and an Uncle Wiggly game costing 59 cents. A heavy, all-wool shaker sweater and matching cap for $5.87, and a birthstone ring for $3.35 completed Molly’s list.
Grandma thought half a dozen mercerized white lawn hankies at 53 cents would be nice, along with a warm, full-length ribbed cotton union suit at 93 cents. She secretly longed for a soft, comfortable velour upholstered rocker, but it cost $23.85, and a $2 bottle of Evening in Paris perfume would be heavenly (although she didn’t ask for it).
Granda allowed that a one-pound can of Granger pipe tobacco and a flannelette night shirt, each costing 89 cents, was all he wanted, but he’d been eyeing the 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 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 hp 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.
My sister and I devoured the Sears Christmas catalog as kids, and our extensive wish lists were usually pruned drastically, just as those of our fictitious Molly, Johnny and Billy would have been. Somehow at the time, I never thought of Mom and Dad not being able to afford things they wanted, but I’m sure it was so. Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year. FC
Ever since his days as a boy on a farm in western Pennsylvania, Sam Moore has been interested in tractors, trucks and machinery. Now a resident of Salem, Ohio, he collects antique tractors, implements and related items.