Thanks to the catalog of the "Mur & Merilise" trading house, today we can find out what presents were exchanged in the 19th century and how much one could pay for toys from the capital's expensive stores. For example, in the 1890s the cost of dolls ranged from 35 kopeks to 5 rubles and up. The average salary of a Moscow professor at that time was 275 rubles a month; a worker received on average 14 rubles a month.
The famous "Mur & Merilize" trading house operated from 1857 to 1918, had its own furniture factory and several stores. By the 1890s the number of staff reached a thousand people. The main building of the "Mur & Merilize" on Petrovka Street, built at the beginning of the 20th century, is well known to this day - today it is occupied by the TSUM store.
"Muir & Merleys" was known for its product catalogs with prices and images of the most various items - from underwear to paintings. Out-of-town customers could buy goods with delivery: purchases were delivered by rail or if trains did not go to the specified area - by mail. But it was necessary to make an order for a large sum, starting from 50 rubles, to have it delivered.
A separate illustrated price list was issued for the Christmas holidays. An important remark was made at once: "The prices stated in the price list are the most moderate and final. No discounts, even the smallest ones, are allowed, regardless of the number of items prescribed." So what did the famous store offer as Christmas gifts in 1898 and were the prices really "most moderate"?
The catalog opens with a detailed description of the toys that could be purchased as gifts for children. The cost of dolls started at 35 kopeks. The most expensive - "unbreakable dolls, with natural hair and glass eyes, dressed in silk dresses" - could cost more than 5 rubles. Metal wind-up toys were popular, and if for a small wind-up mouse it cost not more than 30 kopeks, then more complicated toys, such as a walking dog, a bear with a leader or a big wind-up hussar cost a ruble or two. Older children could buy a sewing machine for 4 rubles 50 kopecks or a stove (with spirit heating!) for 2 rubles 75 kopecks. There were also toys on sale that vaguely resembled the spinners that were fashionable a few years ago: a "centrifugal spinner that walks on the edge of the Eiffel Tower. The price for such a toy was 55 kopecks.
"Mur & Merilize offered dozens of different board and educational games, from "zoological bingo in four languages" to a game with the ambitious title "Come, See, Win." Prices ranged on average from 50 kopeks to two rubles.
The goods of the electrical department were intended for older children, about which the store informed separately: "The things offered on this page cannot serve any serious purpose; they are just children's toys, which, however, are very entertaining for older children and are not devoid of educational value as belonging to the interesting sections of physics. Even separate catalogs were devoted to such toys and they cost a lot of money: a steam locomotive which could be put into a pond had to be paid more than 13 rubles and a moving fire-pump which drove itself along the floor had to be paid 18 rubles.
Separately there were sets of ready-made Christmas tree decorations for every purse, from 3 rubles to 50. The cheapest ones had a few candles and crackers, moss for the tree, cardboard toys, beads, a few spheres, nuts with surprises and tops. More expensive sets necessarily included the "old man" - as they called the figure of Santa Claus, dozens of glass balls, lanterns and bonbonnières.
Among the presents which the store offered already for adults, one could find musical instruments, elegant writing utensils, diaries for 25 kopeks ("a good pencil and rubber included free of charge") and tear-off calendars to suit every taste - with portraits of members of the royal family, Russian writers, household pictures or children's stories. Several spreads were occupied by a list of goods of the dry goods department. One of the suede wallets "very comfortable for big silver and also gold coins" would make a good present and cost 2 rubles 70 kopeks. A good (and expensive) gift for Christmas was clocks, paintings, or objects made of silver.
At Muir & Merilize you could really find gifts in different price ranges. Of course, it was not a store for the poorest citizens. The average salary of a Moscow professor and a Moscow worker in 1890 differed almost 20 times (275 rubles a month and 14 rubles a month). A dozen eggs then cost 25 kopeks, rye flour 90 rubles per pood, and beef - 3 rubles 60 kopeks per pood.