April 22, 2018

Downtown Store Windows in the 1800s

A trip to downtown Prescott in the 19th century often included a gander into the store windows. Generally, merchants would display the very latest arrivals to their stock, but this wasn't always the case.

Fortunately, the newspaper was keen to mention what was being displayed at stores--particularly when those same stores were regular advertisers. These mentions offer insight into what a 19th century visitor to Prescott would see as he walked around the square.

Initially, the purpose for store windows was to let in light. However, merchants soon noticed the value of featuring their wares to passers-by. By 1892, the Goldwater brothers were the first in town to install large picture-windows in their store front. The Bashford-Burmeister store quickly followed suit.

In July, 1899, the newspaper published a list of items found "In The Store Windows:"

  • Many fancy straw hats.
  • Modern and antique rugs at special prices.
  • Boleros of heavy black, white or cream lace.
  • A Profusion of nets for millinery trimmings.
  • Special aisle-tables of sterling silver toilet articles.
  • Fancy ribbon belts with various forms of buckles attached.
  • Broad displays of new ginghams representing all the best designs.
  • Many brilliant golf capes in shades of red and new blues, plaid lined.

Perhaps because of the black and white photography then, many today are unaware of how brightly colored clothing could be in that day. This same list also included many references to vibrant fabrics, many of which are unfamiliar to us today:

  • Broche bayadere striped and checked ginghams.
  • Poplin mixtures and two-tone granite suitings.
  • Ombre taffetas with satin stripes and dots interwoven.
  • New cheviot shirt waiste in man-like goods.
  • Washable habitais in all weaves and shades.
  • Peking chiffonettes in all colors, showing cluster cords.

A pioneer woman might find "Round-toed, masculine looking, women's boots" to be practical, while businessmen and professionals could inspect "Venetian tailored suits with the new, short, pointed jacket."

The history of the founding of the Prescott (AZ) Chamber of Commerce. Its earliest successes involved the ordinary citizenry.

Occasionally, instead of stock, store windows featured items of human interest. In September 1890, the champion Prescott Fire Hose Team travelled to Albuquerque for a competition and won!

The trophy was "of solid silver with a gold facing. A design of a hose cart (was) on the front of it surmounted by the words 'Champion Hose Team.'" Prescott was the second winner of the trophy and their victory was engraved upon it. For all who wanted to see the award, it was put on display at Aitken's Cigar store.

In July, 1899, the sword that was presented to Alexander O. Brodie, who fought with both Crook and the Rough Riders, and became the 15th Governor of the Arizona Territory, was on display at Cook's Jewelry store. The year previous, Cook's displayed "a genuine old Jacob Steiner" violin for 3 hours. It was furnished by a visiting performer.

Before drugstores expanded into stationary, soda fountains and the like, they had a unique problem in drawing interest to their store windows. A new powder or tincture was hardly much of a sight. However, in 1896, Harry Brisley's Drugstore featured "A display of South African Kola nuts, a basket in which they were imported to this country and preparations made from the nuts, for medicinal purposes. These nuts are said to contain great medicinal qualities," it was noted.

In 1893 when Brisley's was known as the Mountain City drugstore, Harry installed "electric light lamps in his...store windows;" a major spectacle in that day.

The early history and construction of what is Arizona State Route 89A today. It was originally known as Arizona Highway 79: The Prescott to Jerome "Shortline."

One drugstore proprietor, "Frank Emmal, of the Corner Drugstore...arranged a very unique pill exhibit in one of the windows of that store. All kinds of pills (were) grouped there in artistic promiscousness." In 1896, Emmal displayed a live gila monster in his window to draw interest.

Also of zoological interest, Beaumont Coxe placed a live crocodile in his drugstore window in 1889.

In 1893, the newspaper reported: "An excellent portrait in crayon of Gen. Crook is on exhibition in WW Ross' drugstore window. It was executed by Miss CE Blake and shows her to be a true artist. It will be placed on exhibition at the World's Fair."

Holidays brought seasonal displays. The week of July 4th, in particular, lead to a profusion of bunting, flags, and portraits of great Americans.

And Then There Was Christmas...
When the Christmas season arrived, store windows were a matter of pride and some unofficial competition.

In 1889, an advertisement for Goldwater's boasted:
M Goldwater & Bro. 
Wish to announce that they now have on display 
Ever Brought to the Territory. 
We cordially invite the public to call and inspect.

One merchant displayed a Christmas give-away in 1886: "Purchasers of holiday goods at George H Curry's secure a chance to win an elegant prize of an oil painting" which was displayed in his store window.

During the Christmas season, those who sold groceries made sure of stocking special cuisine. In 1888, "JW Wilson has put some 'fancy fixings' in his store window, whereby he is able to make a beautiful and very attractive display of his goods," for Christmas.

Another proprietor, JL Fisher, featured a typical display of food in his Christmas display of 1892: ""In anticipation of the joyful Christmas tide, JL Fisher has laid a large supply of fancy groceries of endless variety" that is displayed in his store window. "It consists (of) smoked sardines, smoked pickerels, smoked trout, Glencarirn pie in cans, smoked terrapin, Lake Erie Whitefish, anchovies," and other meat and game. Suspiciously, "fresh deviled crab and lobster" was also listed.

"Of vegetables, fruits and relishes (Fisher displayed) brussel sprouts, mushrooms, string beans, green peas, pineapples whole in cans, olives, roquefort cheese, relishes, jellies, jams...and everything...which would contribute to the pleasure of Christmas."

Delightful story of Prescott, AZ's first Christmas in 1864. Residents opened their homes to all.

In a time before photographs could be published in the paper, store window displays were a basic and vital marketing tool for merchants to bring in customer traffic.

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Arizona Weekly Journal-Miner, 7/26/1899; Pg. 4, Col. 6.
Arizona Weekly Journal-Miner, 10/15/1890; Pg. 3.
Arizona Weekly Journal Miner, 7/19/1899; Pg. 3, Col. 2.
Arizona Weekly Journal-Miner, 7/27/1898; Pg. 3, Col. 3.
Arizona Weekly Journal-Miner, 1/15/1896; Pg. 3, Col. 2.
Arizona Weekly Journal-Miner, 2/15/1893; Pg. 5, Col. 2.
Arizona Weekly Journal-Miner, 12/26/1894; Pg. 3, Col. 3.

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