Done your holiday shopping yet? No? If you’re still stuck for ideas, let the past help you out: specifically, the year 1948.
The good news is that we know exactly what the top 18 best-selling gifts were at Macy’s for that year. And not only that, but LIFE Magazine took the trouble of dispatching now-legendary photographer Nina Leen to the store to capture each and every one for us. LIFE also recorded the price of each item — and the number sold.
Macy’s stocked around 400k items in 1948 and for the holiday season, the store hired an auxiliary staff of 14,000 to meet the Christmas demands of around 25k daily customers.
Back then, many of the items people would be unwrapping on Christmas morning were of a decidedly practical bent. Nylon stockings and a ballpoint pen were the third and fourth best-selling items being snapped up by Christmas shoppers.
And you won’t find any technology, either (barring one vinyl album). Macy’s sold 15k copies of a recording of Strauss’ waltzes.
Mind you, there are some items that, though they may not win any awards for originality, still stand a good chance of being at least reasonably well received by many members of your extended family: handkerchiefs (the number one seller), socks, slippers (made of Rayon), and pajamas. And of course, the gift that, when you have exhausted all other options, is a great fall-back: a bottle of whiskey (albeit Macy’s own brand.)
Shirts and ties made an appearance, though you would be hard pressed to buy one made of Rayon today. And does anyone have any idea what “Suzy” perfume smelt like? Perhaps we’d have to fire up the time machine to find out.