Christmas Toys Now and Then

Full page Ad for Foster’s Bargains from the Perth Amboy Evening News, December 6, 1918

While best sellers of 2018’s holiday season include toys such as the L.O.L. Surprise! Bigger Surprise, Avengers Hero Inventor Kit, and the Osmo Genius Kit, classic timeless toys still stuff the stockings of children across the country. During the course of our research at the New Jersey Digital Newspaper Project, we have found that model trains, trucks, dolls, sleds, tea sets, teddy bears, and even educational toys were popular gifts advertised in the newspaper during the weeks leading up to Christmas in the 1910s and 1920s. Below are links to original toy advertisements found in our local New Jersey newspapers. A few of the same toys have even survived to become highly collectable antiques.

A Toy United States Warship Ad from the Perth Amboy Evening News, December 17, 1917

If this advertisement in the Perth Amboy Evening News for Leon’s Department Store is to be believed, they sold this toy ship at a steep discount compared to local competitors. When we plug the 69 cent selling price into an inflation calculator, we discover that this toy cost the equivalent of $12.70 today. However, this same exact toy recently sold for $300 on a popular auction site. 

Here is another advertisement for a toy delivery wagon in the Perth Amboy Evening News

Automobile Delivery Wagon Ad from the Perth Amboy Evening News, December 11, 1913

When we plug this toy’s 39 cent selling price into an inflation calculator, we find that its value in today’s dollars would be $9.83. As an antique, this toy sold for $270 on eBay.

Another interesting toy advertisement we found was for this set of large wooden block letters. Here is how it appeared in the newspaper.

Instructo Alphabet Block Letters Ad from the Perth Amboy Evening News, December 18, 1917

And this is what those block letters look like today.

It hurts to step on them now, but don’t sell those LEGOs. They might be worth a small fortune in the future. If you come across any interesting toy ads in any of the New Jersey newspapers on Chronicling America, let us know by leaving a comment below. Make sure to subscribe to the NJDNP Blog to stay up to date with our newest posts.


(Contributed by Giovanna Ligato-Pugliese and Jacob Paul)

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