Christmas Shopping, Territorial Days through the 1880s

Early Oregon City newspapers carried brief news of holiday parties with trees and gifts at the local churches, including visitsArgus Dec 1856 from Santa Claus, and a few editorials with the background of holiday customs. But advertising for merchandise for Christmas gift giving took a while to appear.

Local merchants, who placed ads in the Oregon Spectator and Oregon Argus, usually ran the same ads for their goods for several months and ones that only ran a few weeks for Christmas buying did not appear until the mid-1850s. One of the earliest ads appearing in the Oregon Argus was for books. In the December 18, 1858 Oregon Argus ran a one line advertisement “Holiday Gifts at Charman & McKinney’s” under the businesses usual list of mechandise as well as their bakery and confectionary, as well as an ad for holiday for John A. Post’s City Book Store, offering “Annuals, Albums, Poetical Works, etc., from 12 1/2 cents to $20.”

From 1860 through 1862 the only ad especially aimed at Christmas shopping was F. Charman’s small entry announcing the arrival of Toys “A Full Supply For Christmas and New’s Years” that ran in the same two lines format each year beginning in November. The Oregon Argus moved to Salem in 1863 and merged with the State Republican which ended local advertising for a few years. The next opportunity for Oregon City businesses to advertise in a “hometown newspaper” for holiday shopping was in the pages of the Oregon City Enterprise which began publication in 1866.

The December 1866 issues of the Oregon City Enterprise carried two holiday ads – one from a local business and one from a Portland business.

In 1868 the first large Christmas ad appeared in the local newspaper, from S. J. McCormick’s at 105 Front Street in Portland, who advertised his store as “Santa Headquarters”. Over the next few years McCormick would run an ad in the Oregon City Enterprise every holiday season – including a long poem from Santa in the 1870s complete with local references…

1867 Dec 21 ads

I’ve come, my dear people, among you once more,
Keeping up the good custom established of yore.
I bid you all welcome! I wish you good cheer!
A right Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
You will find me this year as you have heretofore,
At McCormick’s on Front street – the FRANKLIN BOOK STORE!
Where I’ve opened my Budget – ’twas filled to the brim.
With every nice Toy, that could talk, walk, or swim.
I’ve Musical Work Boxes – and Guitars for the fair;
And Gifts for the gents that are both rich and rare.
Whilst my Budget includes the nicest new toys
Intended as gifts to good Girls and Boys!
I’ve the Ark in which Grandfather Noah was kept
When all other creatures from the world were swept,
For men in those days would in evil persist,
So the world was washed out by an Oregon mist!
I’ve Babies of rubber, of wax, and of leather,
They were all made to order, and well put together;
I’ve Vases and cups, nicely gilded outside,
And little Rock Horses, for Hobbies to ride;
I’ve Cannon and Pistols, which cannot explode,
For the reason they hold neither wadding or load.
I’ve steamboats that run – you just wind them in front,
And they’ll beat the Cascade of the Wilson G. Hunt!
I’ve a new Locomotive – it can never explode,
‘Twas build for the use of Gaston’s railroad,
I’ve Engines that play – set them down on the floor
And they’ll through greater streams than old 2 or new 4.
I’ve Furniture, Fiddles, and French Fusileers,
Soldiers that look like B. B. Pioneers.
I’ve swords made of tin – guns and pistols as well
And a new kind of Drum – that rings like a bell.
I’ve masks of all sizes – I’ve Grace Hoops galore,
And you’ll find at McCormick’s a thousand toys more.
On Front street the store is – 105:
Where toys are as plenty as bees in a hive;
Go there and buy them – this is my request,
His prices are low, and his stock is the best.
Given in my Palace at Wonderland, this 30th day of the eleventh month being the first year of the reign of George the Third in Web Foot. Santa Claus.

The period of time beginning with the Panic of 1873 through the Depression of 1893 and the slow recovery is sometimes referred to as the Great Depression of 1873-1896. Economic problems and unemployment reached into every corner of the United States and Europe. Uncertain economic times were likely a time when advertising dollars were focused on staple goods and services rather than seasonal goods. Although the Oregon City Enterprise was published regularly through this time, surviving issues from the 1880s are scarce. I’ve suspected that this is due to frugal townspeople who reused their newspapers, if they still subscribed, tearing them up for scraps of notepaper, using them to insulate their walls or to line their shoes and clothing when money was scarce.

No matter the cause, the next example of a Christmas specific ad does not appear in available copies of the Enterprise until 1887 – and this one from Thomas Charman and Son’s Pioneer Store is more of a promotion to bring in business than an offering of Christmas goods…

dec 1887 charmans

As the economy began to recover and new stores opened in Oregon City the face of holiday advertising began to change. Next – Christmas Shopping 1890s Style.


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