Early Albany Deptartment Store Exhibition Opens

The Albany Institute of History & Art is presenting Temple of Fancy: Pease’s Great Variety Store, an exhibition featuring Richard H. Pease’s upscale “Five and Dime” where Albany families could purchase fancy goods, toys, household items, children’s books, and games from the 1830s to 1855. The exhibit will draw from the collections of the Albany Institute, and includes a reproduction of Pease’s 1850-51 Christmas card, considered to be the very first printed in America, on loan from the Manchester University Museum in England, where the only surviving copy resides. The exhibit opened November 19, and will run through March 25, 2012.

Before F. W. Woolworths’, Whitney’s, or even Myer’s department store, there was Pease’s Great Variety Store, located in the Temple of Fancy at 516 and 518 Broadway in Albany. As with other fancy goods stores, Pease’s catered to the middle and upper middle class selling highly decorated goods like ceramics, prints, furniture and other decorative household items that progressively thinking people might have wanted to purchase.

The 1844 Wilson’s Albany City Guide provides a flattering description of Pease’s: “For richness and extensive variety of novelties, combining the beautiful, the useful and the ornamental, this establishment excels any in town. Mr. P. has many fancy articles which are surpassingly rich- exceeding anything in elegance that we have ever thought, dreamed or read of.” Pease’s advertisement in the Albany Evening Journal on December 17, 1841, was the very first time Santa Claus was used to advertise a store. They also produced the hand-colored lithographs of fruit for Ebenezer Emmons’ Agriculture of New York published between 1846 and 1854.

Temple of Fancy: Pease’s Great Variety Store will be on display in the library cases at the Albany Institute of History & Art, located at 125 Washington Avenue, Albany. The exhibition . Coinciding with the exhibition, the Albany Institute has produced a 20-page booklet, “Pease’s Great Variety Store and the Story of America’s first Christmas Card”, that will be available for sale in the Museum Shop.

Illustrations: Above, courtesy Albany Institute of History & Art- below, America’s First Christmas Card, Designed and printed by Richard H. Pease for his “Pease’s Great Variety Store in the Temple of Fancy” c.1851. Image courtesy of Manchester Metropolitan University Special Collections.

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