Take Me to Kaufmann's: The Big Store

Kaufmann’s department store made itself part of many holiday seasons in Pittsburgh.



A scene from a vintage picture books, circa the era when shopping downtown in big department stores was an essential holiday experience.

My friend Claudia Korol called to tell me about two booklets she found among the postcards and printed papers collected by her late husband, Paul. “They’re Christmas readers—full of poems and stories, “ she said. “You have to see them.

“They’re beautiful Victorian booklets with colorful covers, one from 1905 and one from 1907. And they’re both ‘dedicated to the children of Pittsburgh,’ although one spells it without the ‘h.’ They’re from Kaufmann’s with a color picture of ‘The Big Store’ on the back covers.”

So, I went and saw them. They’re handsome little picture books from the days when shopping downtown in big department stores was an essential holiday experience. The inside pages are printed on cheaper paper, like a coloring book, with illustrated poetry and prose for kids from pre-school through the elementary grades.

There are silly bears on toboggans and a beautifully drawn chimpanzee photographer taking pictures of a well-dressed family of Victorian hippos! A two-cookie robbery in Snowbirdville is the subject of another cartoon (which, I’m not sure, might have a hidden political meaning). One of the booklets has a children’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

There are very few Santa Clauses and no birth of baby Jesus stories at all, yet both books bear the same title: “Kaufmann’s Sunday School Greeting.” I tried to investigate if Kaufmann’s might have had a Sunday school (unlikely since the store wasn’t open on Sundays), and I found many people’s department-store memories written for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette back in summer 2006, when the store was changing its name to Macy’s. Someone wrote of a doctor’s office and hospital in the store, but no one mentioned Sunday schools or religious training of any sort.

I called the Library & Archives department at the Heinz History Center, and the always-helpful Art Louderback told me that they, too, had seven or eight of these Christmas books as well as others with non-holiday themes like pets. “They gave them out free to Sunday schools,” said Louderback, “to get some publicity and to remind kids to go shopping at Kaufmann’s.” I hadn’t considered the possibility of a clever church-based distribution plan!

A little Christmas book from Kaufmann’s just makes me think of the old book department on the first floor of the store, right beside the Tic Toc Restaurant. Sometimes we’d wait by the tables and shelves of books for my Aunt Mary and Aunt Ann, who often met us for lunch there, especially at Christmastime when we were shopping with Mom.

Even today, in the place now called Macy’s, I still love browsing at Bradley’s Book Attic up on the ninth floor, where my buddy Lisa Kane always has suggestions. And I should get there this month because there are kids on my list who are going to receive books from a department store, even if that’s an old-fashioned notion. I guess the little Christmas books from 1905 and 1907 can still do what they were intended to do: get me into “The Big Store.”

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

The Best Bars in Pittsburgh Right Now

The Best Bars in Pittsburgh Right Now

Many Pittsburgh bars have solid beer lists, well-mixed cocktails or a bartender who's handy with a shot and a story. We need more than that. What makes these bars the best?
View Pittsburgh & Its People From The 1850s Through Today

View Pittsburgh & Its People From The 1850s Through Today

#pixburgh: A Photographic Experience features images from the Sen. John Heinz History Center vault, which contains close to one million images. The show features a sampling of 400 images from the 1850s through today — including landmarks, fun, folly and floods.
In Concert: What's Next for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra?

In Concert: What's Next for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra?

Melia Tourangeau, CEO and president of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, looks to lead the ensemble forward after a discordant strike.
Restaurant Review: Umami in Lawrenceville

Restaurant Review: Umami in Lawrenceville

Umami sets the bar for izakaya openings in Pittsburgh. But its owners still have steps to take to keep raising the standard.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Inside the Ultimate Man vs. Machine Poker Match in Pittsburgh

Inside the Ultimate Man vs. Machine Poker Match in Pittsburgh

Four of the world’s best poker players are playing 120,000 hands of Heads-Up No-Limit Texas Hold’em against Libratus, the poker-playing bot created by Carnegie Mellon University computer scientists.
See How Chess Made Le’Veon Bell a Better Running Back

See How Chess Made Le’Veon Bell a Better Running Back

Watch the video that reveals Bell’s talents that go beyond the football field.
RMU President Named to College Football Playoff Committee

RMU President Named to College Football Playoff Committee

Chris Howard will help decide which four teams will vie each year for college football’s national championship.
Watch: Preview of Fascinating Rachel Carson Documentary

Watch: Preview of Fascinating Rachel Carson Documentary

Carson, a native of Springdale, is credited with launching the modern environmental movement. She is the subject of a new “American Experience” documentary airing Jan. 24 on PBS.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

The Best Bars in Pittsburgh Right Now

The Best Bars in Pittsburgh Right Now

Many Pittsburgh bars have solid beer lists, well-mixed cocktails or a bartender who's handy with a shot and a story. We need more than that. What makes these bars the best?
View Pittsburgh & Its People From The 1850s Through Today

View Pittsburgh & Its People From The 1850s Through Today

#pixburgh: A Photographic Experience features images from the Sen. John Heinz History Center vault, which contains close to one million images. The show features a sampling of 400 images from the 1850s through today — including landmarks, fun, folly and floods.
In Concert: What's Next for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra?

In Concert: What's Next for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra?

Melia Tourangeau, CEO and president of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, looks to lead the ensemble forward after a discordant strike.
Restaurant Review: Umami in Lawrenceville

Restaurant Review: Umami in Lawrenceville

Umami sets the bar for izakaya openings in Pittsburgh. But its owners still have steps to take to keep raising the standard.
Daytripping: Have Musket, Will Travel

Daytripping: Have Musket, Will Travel

The rest is history at ye olde Colonial Williamsburg, the former capital of Virginia and now a restored revolutionary war-era village.
Talk of the Tahn: The Consequences of Trespassing

Talk of the Tahn: The Consequences of Trespassing

I snuck into a steel mill. Bethlehem, Pa. I’d been bragging about how big Pittsburgh’s industrial ruins were when a woman in a bar told me, “Bethlehem’s are bigger.” Size matters.
Edit Module
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Inside the Ultimate Man vs. Machine Poker Match in Pittsburgh

Inside the Ultimate Man vs. Machine Poker Match in Pittsburgh

Four of the world’s best poker players are playing 120,000 hands of Heads-Up No-Limit Texas Hold’em against Libratus, the poker-playing bot created by Carnegie Mellon University computer scientists.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Restaurant Industry Fundraiser to Aid Injured Chef

Restaurant Industry Fundraiser to Aid Injured Chef

Zach Behm was chef de cuisine at Cure in Upper Lawrenceville at the time of a July car wreck.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The Best 6 Places to Get a Cup of Tea in Pittsburgh

The Best 6 Places to Get a Cup of Tea in Pittsburgh

The quiet rise of Pittsburgh's tea scene gives us a few favorite gems.

Comments


The Trendy New East Liberty Hangout ... Primanti's?

The Trendy New East Liberty Hangout ... Primanti's?

The latest outpost of the popular local chain is housed in the former Verde space in Garfield.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Tomlin Needs to Be Tomlin Against Brady, Belichick

Tomlin Needs to Be Tomlin Against Brady, Belichick

The Steelers are going to have to attack the game to survive it, to grab it by the throat and choke it to the desired conclusion.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Tantalizing Textiles for the Table

Tantalizing Textiles for the Table

Check out the chic decor from Pittsburgh-based artist and designer Janice Nelson.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Shyamalan's Split is Troubling For the Wrong Reasons

Shyamalan's Split is Troubling For the Wrong Reasons

Reviews of "Split," "20th Century Women" and "The Founder," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Real Pittsburgh Weddings: Why All of the Guests Got a Gift

Real Pittsburgh Weddings: Why All of the Guests Got a Gift

This couple wanted to make sure all of their guests felt as included as possible.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Urban Fit Co. Opening Flagship Shop in Sewickley

Urban Fit Co. Opening Flagship Shop in Sewickley

The locally owned active wear boutique is slated to open in March. Plus, get all the details on Pittsburgh’s new luxury residential real estate firm, Piatt Sotheby’s International Realty.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Gun Violence Target of Carlow's Social Justice Institutes

Gun Violence Target of Carlow's Social Justice Institutes

The University will conduct research and offer scholarships to victims.

Comments