Yeast, hair removal, wine, bathing suits and more were advertised in this 1905 issue of the Emanu-El, the original name of this paper.
Yeast, hair removal, wine, bathing suits and more were advertised in this 1905 issue of the Emanu-El, the original name of this paper.

Archives Week: Lace curtains, freckle salve and dancing pumps in early ads

What does a newspaper bring to a community? In the case of the Jews in San Francisco at the turn of the 20th century, they opened the local paper to read news from abroad, peruse society columns to see who was visiting from Chicago, and perhaps tackle issues such as “the influence of Americanism upon the Jew.”

But, like everyone else, they also turned to the paper to buy stuff.

Kurtz’s Freckle Salve advertised in 1895.

The early ads in the Emanu-El — this paper’s original name — draw a portrait of a vibrant world of assimilated, well-off Jews in a time full of new technologies and opportunities. And the paper’s advertisers were there to meet them — feeding them with oysters from Normann’s, clothing them in form-fitting underwear from Pfisters and offering lunch at the Poodle Dog restaurant on Eddy Street (which famously — and secretly — had a brothel upstairs).

Readers’ looks were maintained by Kurtz’s Freckle Salve from Edward A. Baer, druggist (”Ladies, Just the Thing!”), while the hair on their faces, after being gently removed by electricity, was “positively guaranteed never to return or no charge.”

For leisure they could take an excursion by ferry to “beautiful Alameda County” or go camping at “reduced rates” in the Santa Cruz mountains, or perhaps just learn to play the piano.

Some of the advertisers targeting the well-off San Francisco Jewish community were themselves Jewish, part of a thriving class of merchants who helped build the West.


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Open an account with us for 1896—economy—pure food—the best,” advertised gourmet grocery chain Goldberg, Bowen & Lebenbaum (also known as Goldberg, Bowen & Co.). With three stores in San Francisco and one in Oakland, the business went bold with its advertising in the 1903 paper, claiming “The number of our customers increases yearly—there must be a good reason.”

The earthquake and fire of 1906 took its toll on the prosperous local chain, reducing the Sutter Street location to rubble. But the company rebuilt in 1909 and the “new” Goldberg Bowen Building still stands in downtown San Francisco, a few blocks from J.’s office.

Going to a party? The Emanu-El reader of the late 1800s and early 1900s might have shopped for an outfit at Ransohoff’s, the “Home of Style and Quality.” The store on Geary advertised “French and American modes” including “dinner gowns, tailored suits, wraps, waists, skirts and neckwear.” Or they could have bought a well-turned pair of shoes at Rosenthal’s, where you could find “dancing pumps and satin slippers in many dainty designs and colors.”

Women's clothing at "moderate prices" from Ransohoff's in 1903. And an "immense variety of superior shoes" were available at Rosenthal's in 1907.
Women’s clothing at “moderate prices” from Ransohoff’s in 1903. And an “immense variety of superior shoes” were available at Rosenthal’s in 1907.

Many of the early ads had nothing to do with Jewish companies, or Judaism, at all.

A 1904 ad titled “All Day for $1” beckoned San Franciscans to take a “delightful excursion” across the bay with a scenic trip to Alameda, Haywards [sic], Oakland, Berkeley and “the great University of California.” The ticket included “a substantial lunch at Hotel Metropole.”

The latest ideas in gas ranges advertised in 1897.
The latest ideas in gas ranges advertised in 1897.

In other ads, there were pitches for stoves, lace curtains and the newly invented gas water heaters (“We Make Water Hot”). For the more affluent, in 1905, a Packard automobile was offered for sale in the paper, “complete in every detail, with glass front, canopy top—$2,750,” a rather staggering price if you consider inflation would put the cost today at $88,000.

There were also notices you’d only see in a Jewish paper.

A young lady would like to stay with a refined private Jewish family, in which she could feel at home. If necessary, will furnish her own room; also has piano,” read one want ad in 1900. People looking for room and board at the home of a “nice Jewish family” advertised often in the paper, as did Jews with rooms to rent.

Still, it was an assimilated group. Not only was there an 1895 ad for Christmas tree ornaments, but in 1905 there was a quarter-page ad from the San Francisco department store the Emporium (also Jewish-owned) for the “Best of Everything for Christmas Gifts” that featured a vibrantly drawn Santa Claus. The advertisement was on the same page as the paper’s directory of city synagogues and other Jewish organizations.

Santa makes an appearance in a 1905 ad for Christmas gifts.
Santa makes an appearance in a 1905 ad for Christmas gifts.

While the Emanu-El newspaper, through its articles and opinion pieces, had as its stated goal representing “liberal Jewish thought” on the West Coast, just as much can be learned about the Jews of San Francisco through the advertisements in its pages. In their range from practical to extravagant, the ads portrayed a world in which the city was booming, the war years were yet to come and the streets did seem to be paved with gold.

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.