Here Is Your 1868 Cincinnati Shopping Guide

On Monday, 21 December 1868, the Cincinnati Gazette devoted more than half its front page to a detailed list of Christmas gifts available at Cincinnati’s shops. Were you, dear reader, to hop into a time machine and drift back to 1868, the Gazette’s shopping guide would serve as a fine introduction to the Queen City in the years after the Civil War. Almost all the shops mentioned by the Gazette were located on just over four blocks of West Fourth Street, from Main to Elm. Let us take that time journey, and seek our gifts from the shops of Cincinnati in 1868.

Pike's Opera House, on the south side of Fourth Street between Vine and Walnut sat right in the middle of Cincinnati's prime shopping district in 1868. Many shops rented space on the street level.
Pike’s Opera House, on the south side of Fourth Street between Vine and Walnut sat right in the middle of Cincinnati’s prime shopping district in 1868. Many shops rented space on the street level.

From "Illustrated Cincinnati," by D.J. Kenny; published by Robert Clarke & Co., Cincinnati, 1875; digitized by the Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County

William Wilson McGrew’s jewelry shop was located at 77 West Fourth Street in the Pike’s Opera building. In addition to the “choicest selection of rich, rare and valuable articles ever produced in the jewelry line,” Mr. McGrew offered “richly mounted riding whips” and “foot stools for the use of ladies at the opera.”

At 6 West Fourth Street, Harry R. Smith & Company, dealers in diamonds, watches and silverware, displayed fine jewelry containing “malachite, onyx, stone cameo, byzantine, etruscan and all the other fine varieties.”

Madame Zwick, at 40 West Fourth, dealt in “all kinds of hair jewelry including bracelets, watch chains, ear drops, rings, etc.,” using exclusively hair provided by her customers.

John P. Walsh’s Catholic bookstore at 170 Sycamore Street promoted a variety of best-sellers including Our Lady of Litanies, Legend of Holy Mary and Weninger On The Pope. For the general public, Robert Clarke & Company at 65 West Fourth attracted buyers with a beautifully bound edition of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol as well as “diaries, of which there is a large stock for 1869.”

Although primarily dealing in books, George S. Blanchard & Company at 39 West Fourth Street provided Cincinnati with “Prang’s celebrated chromos.” These were colored prints produced in abundance by Louis Prang out of New York.

At 50 West Fourth Street, J.J. Dobmeyer’s & Company, dealers in musical instruments also sold sheet music including “Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines,” the most popular song in America during 1868, “appreciated wherever light, harmless fun is welcome”

John A. Mohlenhoff, a major importer of “French China, Glass and Queensware,” touted his fine selection of calling card baskets and receivers.

At 92 West Fourth Street, John Boner, importer and dealer in fancy goods and toys, showcased speaking dolls that said “mama” and “papa,” popular parlor games including Black Dragon,” “How To Make Money,” “Poetical People,” “The Travels of Sam Slick,” Swiss and Chinese building blocks, a toy model of Noah’s ark with pairs of animals and several zoetropes or “wheels of life”—spinning viewers of animated scenes.

Henry Ware was an optician at numbers 5 and 7 West Fourth Street. For Christmas sales, he advertised a selection of magic lanterns, pocket compasses, hall barometers, spy glasses, and magnetic machines.

Over at John D. Park’s at the northeast corner of Fourth and Walnut, customers would find among the varied selection of patent medicines and fancy goods a selection of portemonnies (which we would call wallets).

No Victorian gentleman sallied forth without a good walking cane, and M.E. Kuhn was Cincinnati’s premier purveyor of umbrellas, parasols, and canes at 98 West Fourth Street. For Christmas 1868, Mr. Kuhn suggested walking canes of ebony, malacca (i.e. rattan stems), hickory, and rubber, with gold and silver heads

At the Cincinnati Tin and Japan Manufacturing Company, 169 Race Street, proprietor E.T. Kidd supplied japanned (lacquered) waiters, boxes, coal vases, and toilet ware.

The Hulbert Brothers, Thomas and George, introduced Cincinnati to the Lamb Knitting Machine at their showroom, 173 West Fourth. This revolutionary device produced “every variety of knit good, from infants’ stockings or gloves, to a lady’s shawl or hood, and a pair of socks complete in thirty minutes.”

December was out of season at George B. Ellard’s Base Ball Emporium at 143 Main Street, so he emphasized his winter specialty: ice skates. Mr. Ellard was, he boasted, the “Union Pond headquarters” where customers could find “Winslow’s celebrated wooden skates” and Milton Bradley & Co. toys.

While John W. Gosling’s major business at the southwest corner of Sixth and Sycamore was fine carriages, he had newly introduced a line of “that newest of all styles of conveyance, a velocipede, ideal for an old bachelor or disagreeable acquaintance.” These primitive bicycles were so unheard of in Cincinnati that Gosling could boast, “The velocipedes were first introduced to this city by Mr. Gosling, and his son is, we believe, the only young gentleman in the city skilled in their management.”

Hugh McConnell, at 28 West Fourth, extolled the virtues of the Florence sewing machine. “The machines gotten up expressly for the holidays are certainly magnificent, finished as they are, in beautiful rosewood and walnut cases.”

By this point, the shopper had certainly worked up an appetite and would undoubtedly be drawn to Samuel Beresford Jr.’s stand at the Fifth Street Market. (He also kept a stand at the Lower Market on Pearl Street.) Mr. Beresford purveyed beef and mutton from the farm of Henry Clay Jr. in Bourbon County Kentucky, from which he recently accepted seven steers, five weighing above 2,000 pounds.

To deliciously set off a slab of Beresford’s beef, Cincinnatians would, no doubt, have stopped by J.J. Tranchant’s shop at 163 West Fourth. There, the celebrated “wholesale and retail importer and dealer in foreign and domestic groceries &c” would have on hand Crosse & Blackwell’s mixed pickles, chow-chow, picalilly, cauliflower, and onions.

For the final stop (no Christmas shopping expedition would be complete without sugar plums, eh?), our shoppers would have found themselves at Charles C. Leininger’s Opera House Restaurant and Confectionery, 84 West Fourth Street, where:

“The immense piles of fine candies of every color and style would remind one of a florist’s bazaar. Here are huge heaps, in color like camelias, japonicas, violets and carnations. The sight is enough to ravish one with its exceeding beauty, to say nothing of its other temptations. Fancy and plain cakes, bon bons, mettoes, ice creams, water ices, pyramids of nougats and other good things can be found here in profusion.”

Does anyone know what “mettoes” might be?

This article was reposted with permission from Greg Hand, editor of Cincinnati Curiosities

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