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Days of Even Yorer

by David Westheimer

 


The other day I was looking up some items not to be found in a local mall. In fact, not in any mall anywhere. Because when they were commonly sold malls had not yet been conceived.

These items were in the 1902 edition of the Sears, Roebuck catalogue, which in days of yore was the nearest thing to a mall you could find. Today's malls don't even stock Sears' most popular offerings. Take corsets, for example. A frugal women in a mild climate could buy a summer corset for 25 cents: No. 18R 4932 , Summer Corset. Good quality of net and exceptional value for the low price we quote. Sizes 18 (who has an 18 inch waist these days) to 30. Color. White. If by mail, postage extra, 12 cents.

But for really elegant bulge control, you could go the whole nine yards with No. 18R4912. $1.33. Flexibone, French Model Military Figure: A bias cut full gored corset, in which are combined the qualities of perfect workmanship, durability and graceful shape . Has low bust, long skirt, with tabs for hose supporters. (For that one, the added postage was 15 cents)

Over their corsets, smartly-dressed women wore silk shirt waists ($2.98 and up, plus postage) and what we would now call maxi skirts. Underneath all, sensible long legged flannel underwear.

There are 28 pages of firearms and ammo — shotguns, rifles and handguns. It's possible to find a .38 revolver with a 3-inch barrel for $3.95 (plus 24 cents postage). But Sears hasn't sold firearms for years.

Without leaving the comfort of your own home you could buy buggy tops, bustles, button shoes, butter churns, anvils, stereoscopes, frock coats, wood-burning ranges and hair switches (28 inch gray mixed, red or blonde ones were $6.95).

And men didn't have to journey to Big and Tall Men's stores (which did not exist then, anyhow). They could order stuff like Underwear for Fat Men from Sears. French Balbriggan Undershirts, 44 to 52 chest, and the same waist-size drawers were 70 cents.

If a man, or a woman, didn't want to be eligible for "fat" clothes he or she didn't go running off to a health club. It would be pretty hard to run anywhere in a tight, cinched-in corset and high-buttoned shoes and anyway, I don't think they had health clubs in 1902. They went to the Sears catalogue and ordered Dr. Rose's Obesity Powders (50 cents). "Too much fat is a disease." was the pitch.

If smoking or drinking, not obesity, was the problem, Sears & Roebuck and Co. could handle that, too. Sure Cure for the Tobacco Habit, 40 cents: ".nature's own remedy, entirely harmless. It cures because it builds up and fortifies, rejuvenates the weak and unstrung nerves caused by overindulgence in this poisonous weed." The German Liquor Cure was 42 cents. "That drunkenness is a disease that can be cured by medicine, just as any other disease can, is a fact becoming well-known."

Should one delay fatally long in turning to Dr. Rose's Obesity Powders, Sure Cure for the Tobacco Habit or the German Liquor Cure, one's survivors could order a 2-foot tombstone of royal blue Vermont marble (guaranteed not to fade) for $7.65. "Sunk name and date letters" could be added at 6 cents each.

There were no zippers on anything in the catalogue. To fasten stuff there were buttons, hooks and eyes, laces and thongs (a thong was not something to wear under a skirt but something for tying things up).

There were no transistor radios or any other kind of radios. Or ballpoint pens or light bulbs or instant cameras. But they had movie projectors, listed as Moving Picture Outfits. They didn't come cheap even in those days. The top of the line was the 1901 Projecting Kinetoscope and Combined Stereoscope, which would set you back $105, not counting freight. (To Houston, where my elders lived, first-class freight from the home warehouses in Chicago was $1.50).

Of films to show on your Edison, some as much as 50 feet long. The catalogue says, "We carry so large a stock.that it is well-nigh impossible to give a detailed list in this place." It did mention a few though, including "The Passion Play At Oberammergau" and The Funeral of Queen Victoria.

I wonder if they have them at Blockbusters?

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