Jewelite was a type of plastic that was used for vanity items. My grandmother had a lovely pink translucent Jewelite dresser set composed of a mirror, brush and comb. The pretty trio was a Christmas gift from my grandfather sometime during the war years when silver was unobtainable. My grandmother cherished her set and it remained intact (even the comb) for the rest of her life. I don't think she ever cared that it was not sterling.
I like to imagine the beautiful box of Jewelite under my grandparents Christmas tree in 1942. Feminine Christmas gifts always interest me and when I find a grouping of presents in literature, a diary or a film, I am always thrilled. I mentioned in a recent post that Lee Leander in the marvelous Christmas movie, Remember the Night, received a crystal bottle of Hour of Ecstasy perfume but she also opened two other tissue-wrapped boxes which contained a sweet homemade pin cushion and a pair of dainty handknit bed slippers with delicate ribbon ties. Simple offerings that were few in number, exquisite in quality, and pleasing on so many levels.
The first collection of presents that I became enamored with were of course, Marmee's in Little Women. Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy each gave up their one dollar bills to buy their mother an assortment of feminine luxuries that must have been scarce during the bleakness of the Civil War. I spent hours imagining Marmee's soft leather gloves, crimson slippers, bottle of cologne, and hemmed handkerchiefs and could see the items arrayed just so on the dining room table awaiting her wintry homecoming. Are they not the things that any hard-working mother would prize?
Recently, I came across this in Nancy Mitford's romantic novel, The Pursuit of Love:
My presents (from my mother) were the envy of the entire household. This year (she)...sent a fur hat and a gold and topaz bracelet, whose glamour was enhanced by the fact that Aunt Sadie considered it unsuitable for a child, and said so.
Beautiful and functional gifts...small luxuries to charm and inspire.
In the journal of Alice Stone Blackwell (1872-1874), Growing Up in Boston's Gilded Age, I discovered the following list on a December 25th entry:
~A beautiful necklace and bracelets of little pearly Venetian shells strung together with tiny beads
~A copy of Scott's poems
~A breast pin to match my sleeve buttons,
~A scrolled comb and some notepaper
Some of my favorite Christmas presents have been precious little things that don't necessarily cost a lot but invoke a sense of allure and grace. These are the kinds of presents I love to give, too.
My grandfather may have wanted his wife to have a fancy ornate sterling silver dresser set. Instead, he was able to give her something uncomplicated and elegant - decorous in simplicity, yet eminently useful. And very, very pretty.