Although the most popular toys for the current holiday season are electronic, more than a century ago the toys in Santa’s pack were likely to be mechanical. The Lincoln Evening News on December 23, 1905, said: “One of the surprises of the Christmas season is the increase in the number of mechanical toys and the ingenious methods that have been utilized to make them attractive to the youngsters. A favorite toy for years and advancing in popularity is the miniature engine pulling a train of metal cars. A track is furnished, and it can be so arranged that the train is able to travel around and around until the locomotive has exhausted its wound up power.”
The 1905 Christmas shopper seemed to have plenty of money to spend: “Indicative of the great prosperity which prevails is the statement of the merchants that more valuable gifts have been purchased than [in] any previous season. While cheap toys are sold in large quantities yet those very expensive are bought. The child of the twentieth century fares much better than the child of twenty years ago. The twentieth century youngster gets more toys and better ones than the eager urchin of more than a decade ago.”
The News noted popular gifts for adults in 1905: “Cigar dealers say that presents of boxes of smokes of the better grade are increasing, the sales this season being the most satisfactory of any. Women are buying more cigars than formerly and they are of a good grade. Of course they do not smoke themselves-they purchase them for men friends, sweethearts, husbands, fathers and even uncles and cousins . . . .
“‘People seem to turn more to jewelry this year than common,’ said one [salesman]. ‘The demand for this class of goods has been beyond expectation. Manufacturers are making such reliable grades of plated gold articles that the pure gold does not have the same show as formerly. A plated locket, cross, pair of cuff buttons or scarf pin wears a long time if the plate is good and heavy, and looks quite as attractive as the gold itself.’ “One of the features of the Christmas shopping season is the number of farmers who come to town to buy gifts in the big stores. Outside of any of the stores may be seen farmers and their wives with the vehicles filled with purchases large and small, ready to drive home with the load which makes children and others glad.”
The only damper on the holiday spirit of 1905: “In every [store] department there are seen standing about several well dressed men apparently taking a genuine interest in the movements of the hordes of shoppers. They are seen there at all hours of the day and an observer with time on his hands will soon tumble to the fact that they are ‘spotters.’
“‘Lincoln people must be very honest,’ said one of the watchers. ‘I have been on duty the two previous seasons and have never caught a person pilfering but once.'”
This Christmas greeting from 1907-17 depicted the Cedar River in Nebraska during winter. A drawing of two girls is inset into the photograph. NSHS RG3542-142-3