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Eaton's Christmas Catalogues
by Catherine C. Cole

Eaton's mail-order catalogues were important at Christmastime in fantasy and in reality. Children dreamed about Christmas morning when they looked at the pages of the catalogues, knowing that they would receive only a few gifts from their pages.

  Eaton's Christmas Book 1956, cover.  
  

Enlarge image.Eaton's Christmas Catalogue, 1956, cover.

  
     
  Eaton NoŽl 1975, cover.  
  

Enlarge image.Eaton's Noël Catalogue, 1975, cover.

  
     

Christmas was a Time for Children | Community Christmas Trees | Marketing Christmas | Christmas in the Post-war Period | It's Never Too Soon to Start Getting Ready | What to Buy? | The Wishing Book | Conclusion | Acknowledgements | Further Reading


In addition to the Eaton's seasonal catalogues, a number of specialty catalogues, including one-time catalogues, such as the Klondike Catalogue (1898) and the Settlers' Catalogue (1903), and others that were published for many years, including catalogues of houses and barns, wallpaper and paint, light fixtures, sheet music and books, and seeds and groceries. Some of these were only 32-page booklets, others were quite thick. First published in 1897, the most anticipated catalogue of the year was the Christmas catalogue, which, by the 1950s, grew to be a wishing book of more than 200 pages.

  Eaton's Christmas 1897, cover.  
  

Enlarge image.Eaton's Christmas Catalogue, 1897, cover (reproduction).

  
     
  Sample of Eaton's specialized 
catalogues.  
  

Enlarge image.Example of Eaton's specialized catalogues: Christmas, 1905.

  
     

Christmas catalogues were relatively small in the early 20th century so orders were also placed from the extensive fall-and-winter catalogue. Suggestions were offered for small, practical gifts such as handkerchiefs, slippers, accessories, jewellery, watches, binoculars, pencils and fountain pens, perfumes, makeup, toilet sets, shaving equipment, silverware, pocket knives, linens, down comforters, and sewing baskets. Beads and native goods, moccasins, sweet-grass baskets and "tourist art," books, toys, and skates ("Just what a boy wants for Christmas") were also recommended.

   Tin clockwork-driven hen and chick, 
Eaton's Fall Winter 1916-17, p.†394.   

This brightly coloured tin clockwork-driven hen-and-chick toy was made by the Hans Eberl company in Nuremberg, Germany, and sold through the Eaton's (Winnipeg) Fall/Winter Catalogue, 1916-17, p. 394.

Enlarge image.
 
   Climbing monkey, Eaton's Fall Winter 
1916-17, p.†394.   

A clockwork mechanism animates this monkey as it climbs a string. This toy was carefully saved in its original box and packing material. It sold for 35 cents in the Eaton's (Winnipeg) Fall/Winter Catalogue, 1916-17, p. 394.

Enlarge image.
 
   American Flyer train set, Eaton's Fall 
Winter 1917-18, p.†469.   

This American Flyer train set with key-wound clockwork motor was saved in its original box. It cost $1.25 from the Eaton's (Winnipeg) Fall/Winter Catalogue, 1916-17, p. 469.

Enlarge image.

Christmas was a relatively low-key event at the time, focused on family, church, and community. It was a magical, not materialistic, time. Children looked forward to the arrival of the Eaton's catalogues and to dreaming about what they might receive. After the order was placed, they awaited its delivery with anticipation. Children were sometimes allowed to pick out one gift for themselves, but rarely gave presents to their parents unless they were homemade.

Accounts of the period note that people spent only what they could afford at Christmas. They lived within their means. Families were considerably larger than they are today and gift giving was less common and less effusive. For farmers, a good year allowed for a larger order. The fall order went in after harvest, when the family would know how successful their season had been.

   Easy Sewing Cards for Tiny Tots, 
Eaton's Fall Winter 1919-20, p.†435.   

This set of Easy Sewing Cards for Tiny Tots made by Milton Bradley contained eight cards, perforated in different designs, four skeins of coloured thread, and two needles. It sold for 45 cents in the Eaton's (Winnipeg) Fall/Winter Catalogue, 1919-20, p. 435.

Enlarge image.
 
   Dolly Household Set, Eaton's Fall 
Winter 1919-20, p.†437.   

This Dolly Household Set consisted of a miniature washtub, washboard, clothes wringer, iron, ironing board, table, chopping bowl, potato masher, rolling pin, six clothespins, cup and saucer, and pot. All were made from "wood, smoothly finished." The set sold for 35 cents through the Eaton's (Winnipeg) Fall/Winter Catalogue, 1919-20, p. 437.

Enlarge image.
 
   Tin tea set, Eaton's Fall Winter 
1915-16, p.†278.   

Little girls must have had fun playing "tea party" with this lithographed tin tea set. It was sold for 50 cents in the Eaton's (Winnipeg) Fall/Winter Catalogue, 1915-16, p. 278.

Enlarge image.

Christmas Was a Time for Children

  Santa Claus arrives, Eaton's News 
Weekly, 1926, cover.  
  

Enlarge image.Cover announcing the arrival of Santa Claus in Eaton's News Weekly, 1926.

  
     

Children did not receive many gifts during this period, but they enjoyed looking at the catalogue and dreaming about the things that they would like to receive. Many Canadians who were children in the 1920s and '30s remember spending a lot of time thumbing through the catalogue. One family played a game: If you could pick one thing from every page, what would you pick? In reality, they were only allowed to pick out one thing from the entire catalogue, as there wasn't a lot of money around, but these times are remembered as happy Christmases. Another woman from Alberta remembers receiving dolls. "All the time dolls ... They were just small, baby dolls. They weren't the big, Eaton dolls." A similar memory from British Columbia was of three sisters each getting "a doll and each doll had a little cradle that was made so it would fold up, something like an accordion. They were ordered from Eaton's. They were really special."

For boys, trucks and farm sets were popular. One woman remembers that her son Gordon wanted a truck just like his father's. They sent to Eaton's for the truck with money earned by selling railroad ties. The boy was so excited he could hardly get to sleep on Christmas Eve. Another man described the farm set made in England that he received from the catalogue as a boy in the 1920s, how he played with it, and added to his collection of animals each year.

   Ark, Eaton's Fall Winter 1918-19, 
p.†522.   

75 cents bought this 18-inch-long ark with "animals stamped on wood with bases for standing up" from the Eaton's (Winnipeg) Fall/Winter Catalogue, 1918-19, p. 522.

Enlarge image.
 
   Farm, Eaton's Fall Winter 1914-15, 
p.†349.   

Two little farm boys, Harold and Virgil Bladon of Saskatchewan, wrote their names on the toy wooden barn of their Red Robin Farm. Imagine them playing "farmer" with their wooden barn and animals. This set is very similar to one pictured in Eaton's (Winnipeg) Fall/Winter Catalogue, 1914-15, p. 349.

Enlarge image.

 

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