What to Give for Christmas

A few Christmastide suggestions for 1904

Teco Pottery Ad

Teco Pottery Advertisement

Simplicity is the cry of the hour, and giftmaking is less complex that it was a half-dozen years ago. If a gift is unique, the question of expense is secondary; if it is chosen with a sense of fitness, a knowledge of the likes and needs of the recipient, its intrinsic value is unimportant; if it expresses the individuality of the receiver and something of the personality of the giver it becomes a perfect gift, regardless of the price.

The hand-made article has always had a special significance at Christmas. In the old days—about fifteen years ago, to speak by card—a hand-made gift meant one that we made ourselves; some useful or useless thing that we painted or sewed with much agony. It meant something; it was hand-made. Our friends would appreciate the time and thought expended upon it, and treasure it forever. We still approve the hand-made gift, but we no longer waste precious time and eyesight in making something that in the end seldom expressed anything but love. We go to the craft-worker—the man or woman who has learned the craft of the hand and whose smallest bit of work is art as well as craft. We select some unique thing and send it to our friend rejoicing. Its actual value in money may be slight, but its value in color, line, and individuality is vast.

The gift may take the form of a copper bowl, a quaintly set pebble, an illuminated text. It may be in the guise of a slender metal candlestick, a leather book-cover, a beaten silver spoon. It may be a piece of furniture, big and substantial, or a tiny opal embedded in a loop of silver. It may be one of these things, or something quite different, but whatever it is, it will have certain characteristics which are a part of arts-and-crafts traditions. It will be good in design and color, strong, serviceable, possibly the only one of the kind in existence, and hand-made.

Rookwood Ad

Rookwood Pottery - Is The Best Gift

If you live in Chicago you will seek these things in the various shops where handcraft thrives—in Cowan’s, the Kalo, the Wilro, the Swastica shops, the Craftery, the studio of the Crafters, the workshop of Robert Jarvie, the lantern and candlestick maker, the studio of Leonide C. Lavaron, the worker in metals and semi-precious stones, in the rooms of the Atlan Club, in the studio of Miss Dibble and Miss Topping, decorators of china, and in the workshops of Mrs. Madeline Yale Wynne, Mrs. Isadore Taylor, Miss Jessie Preston, Miss Magda Heuermann, and Miss Christia M. Reade. Chicago has many arts-and-crafts people, and they are all making beautiful things for the holidays. Forges and hammers, and all manner of tools, of which the artless and the craftless know not even the names, are tremendously busy.

During late November and al through December the various shops and studios are thrown open to the shopping public. The rooms are decked in holiday attire. To enter is to succumb. These fascinating places solve the old-time problem: “What to give!” If you wish an oddly-set jewel for a friend—a semi-precious stone in an individual setting—go to Miss Lavaron’s little corner in the Field Building, or to the Swastica shop in the same corridor, of to the Wilro shop in the Fine Arts Building. The friend loves opals—not being superstitious. The arts-and-crafts people are wizards when it comes to opals. They do marvelous things with the rough matrix, bringing out rare and unexpected colors. Superstitions take flight, for lucky indeed are the possessors of these stones.

The Shop of Robert Jarvie

Robert Jarvie - Candlesticks - Handwrought Metal (1910)

Perhaps the friend revels in leather things—bags, portfolios, and book-covers. The Ingerson studio in the Field Building is one place to go, the Swastica shop again another, and still again the Wilro shop. Leather work, like china decorating, has passed through the amateur stage. It is now very good. The various styles of applied, burnt, and illuminated leather may be found in a variety of articles from card cases to table-covers, from portfolios to portières. The color schemes of these are very successful; greens, browns, yellows, deep orange, Pompeiian-red, Gobelin-blue, and silver-grey.

If candlesticks are the special hobby of the friend, the field is indeed a pleasant one. All the world should burn candlesticks when candlesticks are so beguiling. One man in Chicago has won the title of "candlestick maker." He makes other things, but people sometimes forget this fact. Lanterns, bowls, lamp-shades, come from his workshop, also door-knockers. If you wish a Jarvie candlestick for a friend, or as an acceptable present for yourself, you can make a journey to the West Side studio, or to the Kalo shop in the Fine Arts Building. You will find an illustrated Greek alphabet—a candlestick alphabet to be exact. Here is Alpha, a graceful stick in brass, suggesting a high poppy cup; here are Beta and Gamma in copper, brass, and bronze verdegrene; Delta, Epsilon, Eta, Iota, Kappa, Theta, and Zeta in various high and low designs, all attractive in shape and charming in their dull or highly polished surfaces. The Eta is a hand-made saucer-stick, quaint enough to have belonged to some great-grandmother. When a bayberry dip is placed in its socket the old-time atmosphere is complete.

Among the interesting revivals of old industries is that of candle dipping. The bay or wax berry is used, and the result is highly successful. The candles or dips are about eight inches long, and of a grayish green. When lighted they produce a flame of a beautiful soft luster. "These candles," writes an early historian, "are never greasy to the touch, nor melt with lighting in the hottest weather. Neither does the snuff of these ever offend the smell, like that of a tallow candle, but instead of being disagreeable, if an accident puts a candle out, it yields a pleasant fragrance to all that are in the rooms, insomuch that nice people often put them out on purpose to have the incense of the expiring snuff."

Mr. Jarvie's bayberry dips are made by a member of the the Hingham Arts-and-Crafts Society. For the Christmas table these old-time candles seem especially appropriate.

If needlework is the special preference, the little shops offer much to tempt the holiday buyer. In the Kalo is the blue and white work of Deerfield, in the Swastica is the work of the Newcomb School of Needlecraft, in the Wilro are interesting Swedish embroideries and linens. The Swedish weaving shown in the latter shop is decidedly effective. It has the appearance of needlework, and is beautiful in color. Swedish aprons with their characteristic horizontal stripes are among the attractive woven articles. Newcomb needlework is suggestive of Newcomb pottery. Conventionalized trees are the principal motifs. The colors are wonderfully soft and effective against a background of coarsely woven linen. Fanciful titles have been given some of the designs. "Young Sweet Gums in Autumn" is the label of a lovely landscape in greens, blues, and old pink.

Roseville Rozane Ware Ad

Rozane Ware - 1905

The Deerfield blue-and-white needlework is so well known through the various arts and crafts exhibits that comment is unnecessary. From Deerfield come charming photographs taken by the Misses Allen—country lanes and roads, old colonial houses, and picturesque children. Deerfield baskets are also displayed at the Kalo shop. Blue and white Frackleton ware, bas-reliefs by Mrs. Lou Wall Moore, and metal articles from the Handicraft Shop of Boston are exhibited here; also a beautiful wood and copper sconce from the Craftery, located in the Commercial Bank Building. Articles in wood and metals are the sole productions of this craft shop.

Illuminations have a special significance at Christmas. The little shops all have illuminated texts and psalms, and beautifully printed quotations from Ruskin and Browning. Old illuminations—fragments of missals—may be found in a delightful bookshop in the Marshall Field Building, well known to lovers of old books and rare bindings. Mr. Walter M. Hill has recently returned from a book pilgrimage in England and France, and book-lovers can hardly afford to miss his holiday exhibition.

Of new books which have the charm and individuality of the old, the volumes printed by Ralph Fletcher Seymour take high rank. His "Four Christmas Carols," reprinted from early manuscripts and decorated in the missal style, forms an ideal holiday gift. These songs of the Middle Ages are full of quaint charm, pleasing to the modern ear.

For those who care for things Japanese, the extensive collection of H. H. Deakin is a treasure house. If the friend is a lover of old prints, what more charming gift could be imagined than a Hiroshige rain-storm, or one of Hokusai's famous views of Fuji; a spirited figure group by Toyokuni, second, or a dashing warrior by Kunisada——; not first editions, unless we have a well-filled purse, but some later printing, quite as satisfactory, except to the connoisseur.

The Kalo Shop - Chicago

The Kalo Shop - Jewelry (1915)

Cowan's big establishment is a veritable gift shop. A brief summary of its attractions would fill pages. Antiques, pottery, Dutch and Russian brass, Sheffield plate, porcelains, silver, antique and modern jewelry, lamps, candlesticks, and screens are some of the things of this spacious, beautiful shop.

Among other exclusive articles to interest the holiday shopper are the many chafing-dish accessories in Sheffield plate. Other and less expensive gifts are reproductions in Italian terra-cotta of old caskets and jewel-boxes. They are a deep ivory color, and display on their round or oblong covers portraits of Florentine nobles and lovely bits of Renaissance ornament. Made near Florence, in a limited number, a few only have been brought to this country. Mr. Cowan was so fortunate as to secure the entire importation.

If the friend is a collector of things colonial, nothing will prove more acceptable than a bit of old copper, pewter, or brass. At O'Brian's are rare pewter and brass heirlooms from a New Jersey collection; beautiful candlesticks and tea-pots and fine old knockers. Interesting antiques of another type are Louis XIV and Louis XV mirror frames of characteristic designs. Photographs and color prints in great variety are always to be found in this beautiful shop. Among the color reproductions especially to be mentioned are Mrs. Woodruff's charming Dutch babies in old Holland frames. Of unique pottery articles the Goss ware from Oxford is recommended to the gift-maker. It is of simple white glaze bearing the various coats of arms of the colleges of Oxford, and is extremely decorative.

A Norwegian craftshop is a recent addition to the list of attractive salesrooms. In the Fine Arts Building, Madame Nanna Boedker has opened a delightful studio for the display of the peasant industries of Norway. The Hardanger embroidery forms the chief feature of the exhibit. For the housekeeper no gift more useful or attractive could be found than this beautiful needlework.

Among small things, the peasant woodenware, aaklaeder, offers holiday suggestions; miniature chests, bowls, and boxes, all painted in the vivid manner of the Scandinavian. The flowers of the land of the midnight sun are of great brilliancy, and these fantastic flowers in paint and varnish go a degree beyond nature—the reddest, the bluest, the yellowest posies that ever grew under paint-brush.

Near the Norse dragon may be seen the sign of the Russian eagle. Down the corridor are the rooms of the Makaroff Company, or to be very Russian, the Kompanija Makaroff. When has anything quite so foreign penetrated Chicago? Not since the memorable days of 1903. Lacquers, enamels, brasses, coppers, laces, linens, tea, confections, yes—, caviar and cigarettes!

The Makaroff Company is permanently established in Chicago. It has the patronage of the Russian Embassy at Washington, and enjoys the certain privileges granted by the Czar. Russian articles of great variety are for sale here, many of which will be quite new to Chicago. The company has the agency for several firms which are purveyors to the Imperial family. This fact alone is sufficient to make it a success in a democratic land. The firms have names that are unpronouncedly Russian: Semmen Petrovich Posnikoff supplies the company with caviar; Vasilij Perloff exports the finest Russian teas, Battasch Brothers contribute samovars, and Ivan Daviddvich Ivanoff sends marmalade. The Kompanija Makaroff promises picturesque possibilities.

Of a late afternoon, it is pleasant to drop in for a cup of Russian tea, and incidentally select Christmas presents. Not the least of the attractions are the Russian toys—which will delight the small people of Chicago.

The question, What to Give? is easily answered this year of our Lord 1904. It need cause no sleepless hours, for it is no longer the riddle of the Sphinx.

SOURCE: Emery, Elizabeth. "What to Give: A Few Christmas Suggestions." House Beautiful, Vol 17, No. 1 (December 1904) 24.

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