Ye Olde Ask the Past Gift Guide

Father Christmas campaigning for votes The Graphic (1874),The British Library

Shopping got you down? Don’t worry – the Past has done this before. Here assembled for your triumphant gift-giving is the wisdom of the ages (or at least the 19th century).

Recipe for success: (1) spend a lot, and (2) Toilet Soaps.

It is all very well to send Christmas Cards as cheap and handy presents to each and all of one’s friends, but how much better, and more acceptable they become, when accompanied by some useful article! The hint we would give, and which we trust will be acted upon to the full, is to spend shillings where one intended pence, and pounds where one meant to spend shillings… For this purpose, what could be more acceptable than family boxes of mixed Toilet Soaps… Our word for it that a box of toilet soaps, or scents… would be equally as, or more acceptable than even the conventional hampers of game or barrels of oysters.

The Reliquary and Illustrated Archaeologist (1879)

Need a special gift for a special guy? Play it safe with a silver mucilage pot, or go bold with a monkey-skin hymnal.

Silver seals, silver mucilage pots, silver pen-racks, silver penholders, silver pen-tweezers, small silver stamp-boxes for the waistcoat pocket, are among the many little things much more reasonable… The fad for silver is universal… A very useful Christmas present is a hymnal, or hymnal and prayer-book, bound in black monkey-skin, with silver monogram or gilt initials (the latter stamped inside the cover), of size for the waistcoat pocket. These would cost – marking and all – $10. Elephant-skin is not as handsome as monkey, and the snake-skin is beautiful to look at, but most perishable.

Harper’s Bazaar (1896)

Ah, the lady who has everything. I promise she does not have a complete winter ensemble of rat fur.

What more delightful or dignified present can any lord make his lady than presenting her with a complete suit of ermine, comprising muff, cuffs, cape, tippet, boa, and cloak… How comes it, then, that polecats’ and stoats’ skins are held so inestimable, while the poor humble rat’s skin is held in detestation, when in texture and softness it is quite equal, if not superior, to either?… I am satisfied there is no one thing can equal them for ladies’ gloves, where delicacy and softness are the ideal requisites to form the beau-ideal of perfection.

James Rodwell, The Rat: Its History and Destructive Character (1858)

Shopping for children? The Saucy Milk-Maid has what you need.

The mechanical toys imported from Paris are the finest ever brought to this country… The Saucy Milk-Maid is propelled rapidly about the room, shaking her head and patting her cow, while the cow munches oats and lows contentedly. The Drunken Muleteer applies the bottle to his mouth with one hand, and holds on to the mule with the other.

Harper’s Bazaar (1877)

If you’re on a budget, just get creative with a Revolutionary War era brocade gown.

If any woman owns remnants of the old-fashioned brocade gown worn by her great-great-grandmother in Revolutionary days she is fortunate indeed, for she has it in her power to bestow Christmas presents which will be valued by every member of the family connection. Pin-cushions, pen-wipers, work-bags, sachets, sofa pillows – all these articles, in every variety of shape and size, afford an opportunity to use the brocade, or, if the pieces are large enough, handkerchief and glove cases may be added to the list.

Harper’s Bazaar (1893)

And of course, everyone on your list will appreciate a copy of Ask the Past.