Christmas shopping in New York 100 years ago

True, the streets don’t look as festive, and store facades aren’t as decked out as they are today (where are all the usual wreaths and tinsel?).

But in terms of the crowds, the vendors, and all the kids captivated by toy displays, holiday shopping in New York City hasn’t really changed much in the past century, as these photos from abut 1910 reveal.


Then and now, there’s lots of action at the fancy, exclusive department stores, such as the old B. Altman building on Fifth Avenue and 34th Street (above).


Street peddlers put out their wares on the sidewalk, just as they do today (above, selling stuffed toys on Sixth Avenue).


Kids were drawn to toys, naturally. This audience of little ones seems quite taken with the doll and furniture display at the shop above.


I have no idea what this gadget is, but I wonder if this vendor managed to unload it on any of these boys.


Even in an age without web shopping and next-day delivery, Christmas delivery truck drivers were still kept very busy.


And of course, fake-bearded Santas stood at their posts on Midtown streets, soliciting change for charity. This Kris Kringle is raising money for holiday dinners for the needy.

[Photos:  The George Bain Collection of the Library of Congress]

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8 Responses to “Christmas shopping in New York 100 years ago”

  1. Audrey Burtrum-Stanley Says:

    This is a great collection of photos and I loved each one more than the next! The ‘toys in the show-window’ was an especially charming picture — the ‘delivery truck’ reminds me of vehicles that are over-filled in the Mid-East today — and the ‘Charity SANTA’ was beautiful as he delt with the lil’ girl in the fashionable 1920s era coat. Cheers to you for amassing the perfect array of photos to compliment the modern day activities in NYC these past few days!

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Thank you! The kids looking at the toy window is my favorite. Who can’t relate to it?

  3. Kazza Says:

    I think one of my favourite things about your wonderful blog are the old photographs you find. Lovely!

  4. Christmas sidewalk vendors of Sixth Avenue | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] shopping is pretty much the same as it was 100 years ago, as these additional photos […]

  5. trilby1895 Says:

    The yearning to be a part of these long-ago Manhattan scenes is palpable. I wish, I wish, I wish…..and thank you so much for these wonderfully evocative photos.

  6. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Thank you Trilby! I share your yearning.

    • trilby1895 Says:

      You’re welcome, ephemeralnewyork!I wish we like-thinkers could form a group who would then perfect time travel. I’m serious.

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