Larry Clinton/Sausalito Historical Society
Even in the 19th century the commercialization of Christmas was a matter of concern. An editorial in one of the first issues of the Sausalito News (March 1885) stated, “The exchange of gifts is too often regarded as compulsory. There Is a trading of purchases, a tumultuous crowding to meet obligations, as if we had notes at bank to pay, and the time was nearly up. We act too much as if we were paying impatient creditors. The old Christmas sentiment, it is true, reigns in many hearts, but the fact that it is actually waning is depressing. We are becoming too exclusively commercial.”
Nevertheless, as the holiday season grew nearer, the paper reversed course when it ran a shameless plug for a pioneering San Francisco retailer:
“It is not by any means too early to apportion our Christmas funds and enter into a solemn debate with ourselves on the respective merits of the useful or the ornamental in the way of gifts,” the article began, adding, “And often, while considering this momentous subject, have we heard the remark, ‘oh, if we were in New York or London or Paris, we could easily decide, for there, one finds everything.’”
The paper’s San Francisco correspondent described a local establishment “that Is like a little bit of Paris set down in our midst, where, if you cannot be suited, you would be hard to suit indeed. For here, there is such an immense assortment of the useful and the beautiful, that, whether you wish to spend two dollars or two thousand, there is no dearth of choice.”
The correspondent went on to describe a litany of gift ideas that were the bee’s knees back in the day:
Lady friends may be presented with anything conceivable in the jewel line, from a velvet neck-band with its clasp of precious stones, to the “Order of the Garter” with its equally precious buckle. Gentlemen need fear no neglect in the way of fob chains, charms, seals, studs, scarf pins, match holders, watches, etc.
The silverware (also all made and designed by the firm, including its dainty, velvet-lined cases, and to be had only here and at retail) embraces everything from a cheese scoop and jelly knife to a berry bowl or full service. And for those who do not care for the responsibility of the solid article, there is a varied selection of the Rogers, Smith & Company’s plated ware embracing Center Pieces, Tea Sets, Cake Baskets, Water Sets, Vases, Knives, Forks, etc., all of which can be purchased here at the very lowest possible prices. Supplemental to this main business of gold and silver artisanship is an Art Department, so filled with articles of virtu, that to see them is an education in itself. Here, French and Russian bronzes hob-nob with almost priceless Royal Worcester plates whose merits would sooner place them in an Art Gallery than on the dinner table. Vases, card receivers and jewel boxes of hammered brass and silver, made in Philadelphia, stand in loving companionship beside egg shell China cups from France and urns of finest Cincinnati pottery.
Onyx pedestals, perfect marvels of beauty, library lamps which will mellow the light to any desired shade, ladies’ three sided mirrors, silver bound prayer books, exquisite vinaigrettes jardinieres, mantel clocks, statuettes, cut glass pitchers, punch-bowls, cups, plates, and flower holders, in all their crystalline beauty, trifling ash receivers, sealing wax cases, paper weights, ink stands, candle sticks, ivory articles for the writing desk and toilet table, and silver mounted ivory handled carvers, and hundreds of other objects of art are massed together, to form a kaleidoscope of beauty which might be a dream, but which is a happy, palpable reality.
There has recently been opened also a department for leather goods in which, the gentle, civilised calf and the savage and uncivilized alligator vie with each other in their tanned offerings to the demands of the age. There are finely bound photograph albums, elegant traveling satchels, toilet cases for ladies and gentlemen, portfolios of every style, reticules large or small, plain or embossed, glove, handkerchief, letter and card cases, cigar holders.
Your correspondent begs you readers to have no more longings for New York or Paris, but to seek at the establishment of Geo. C. Shreve & Co., San Francisco, for the satisfactory indulgence of their Holiday desires on the corner of Sutter and Montgomery Streets.
Inspired by the Gold Rush, Shreve and Co. is considered the oldest commercial establishment in San Francisco. Today, the company’s store at 150 Post Street specializes in jewelry and luxury watches.