Tis the season for a new batch of classic department store Christmas catalog time travel! And today, I bring you that classic Christmas cliche, in all of it’s kitschy glory: The Christmas Fruitcake. These images are culled primarily from Sears Catalogs, from 1937 to 1988. The catalog fruitcake is a perennial favorite, though I don’t recall if I’ve ever once tried a slice. Given that it’s reputation precedes it due to negative reinforcement from movies, tv shows, comics and general vibes from other humans, I’ve always shurgged it off. Yet, there’s nothing about the ingredients of the standard fruitcake that really offends me. I like cake. I like candied fruit. I like nuts (within reason). I like Christmas. What is there for me to dislike? Maybe this year, I’ll give fruitcake a try. Until then, enjoy these colorful representations of that classic seasonal doorstop. Click any image to enlarge to the full page catalog ad.
Oh, and don’t forget to head over to Wishbookweb.com where I found these fantastic images. If you’re into 20th century advertising design, department store history or just enjoy looking at the Christmas catalogs from your childhood, this is an amazing website!
This first page is my absolute favorite of the bunch. Color printing must have been expensive in 1937, and not many pages in this particular catalog are in color. But it totally helps to make the fruitcake look appetizing. I actually want a slice. Part of it is the composition of the shot, part of it is the green airbrushed background helping to transition the page. A pleasure for the eyes of this vintage graphic design enthusiast.
It also strikes me that in 1937, the Great Depression was still in full swing. This was a fairly extravagant expenditure for a lot of people. The $2.98 “Superfine” option was pretty pricey, I’m sure. The ‘Mellow’ option was a lot more affordable for the same weight, but you were sacrificing all those pineapple and cherry chunks for what appears to be nothing but raisins. Still, drizzle a little bourbon on top and I’m guessing it would have been quite a treat, especially for those used to eating mostly potatoes for 8 years.
‘Pure and delicious’ were used to describe these treats in a few catalogs during the 1940s. Delicious, hopefully. But Pure? What does that mean in this case? Pure cane sugar? Pure bleached flour? Seems an odd adjective. I’d have used Sticky and Delicious. Or Sweet and Delicious. Or… Dense and Delicious, if we’re being honest.
Ward’s fruitcakes look nice and sticky. They also look like they might have been in the oven too long. Especially the bricks on either side of the rings.
“As traditional as a Christmas Tree” says the ad. They forgot to mention, “Can also be used as a Christmas Tree Stand”.
“Traditional Fruit Cakes who live both far and near, we wish them a Happy Christmas, a Happy New Year”. Read the note card that Santa’s holding. That’s what it says. It’s an odd sentiment to be wishing a fruitcake a Happy Christmas. Unless they’ve gained sentience and demand the proper respect from us, lest they eat us and grow into a larger, more deadly fruitcake.
Most of the Sears ads reference Country Inn, as the source of their fruitcakes. It also references that they’re only sold by Sears. I’m assuming that Country Inn was a brand created by Sears and Roebuck, though I haven’t been able to dig up any information about them. The first Country Inn reference in these adds is 1952, the last being 1969. When I Google Country Inn fruitcake, mostly what I find are people selling the old tins on eBay.
I like the 1956 ad. I like that it’s more illustrated than many of the others. The color of the cakes are nice and golden and appealing. I approve.
In 1962, they started selling Fruit Cake Confection in a pie tin. Looks like more of a fruit cookie than a fruitcake.
Ooh, we’re getting a nice closeup on the fruitcake cross-section here. It really shows off the lustrous nature of the candied fruits, and the lack or aeration of the cake. This appears to be every bit as dry as one might expect. The only apparent moisture in this desert dessert comes from the tiny bit of sugar syrup glistening on the fruit.
Another cross section, but I have to say, this one looks far more appetizing than the last! Also, you get a very nice look at the classic gold Country Inn Fruit Cake tin! If that’s something you were eager to see.
Holy Christmas earth-tones, Batman! “Lets put the fruitcakes and cookies on a decorated table, move the table into a broom closet and illuminate the scene with a single pull-string lightbulb.” Still, this is far more festive than the following two 1980s selections.
Oh, 1980s. Your minimalist catalog designs really don’t make fruitcake look too appealing. “Stick the photos in a grid,” says the 1980s catalog designer. “It’ll look like it was created on a space computer!”
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