There is nothing more enjoyable during the holiday season than frantically finding the right gift for loved ones, all the while navigating crowded stores and co-mingling with equally stressed, fellow shoppers. Was it always like this?
Gift giving at Christmas has been around for quite some time, and so has the pressure of buying presents. However, when it’s all said and done, nothing beats the joy involved in showing appreciation to friends, family and work colleagues through this selfless act. Unless, of course, you are forced to make a return—but that’s a whole other issue.
Everything is relative, and it always will be. I have the good fortune of being a parent to four boys, currently ranging in age from 15 to 10. They each have different interests, so I usually experience eclectic quests for gifts. In general, I have a harder time searching for adults. Researching and acquiring “kid toys” and gadgets has been quite enjoyable, an experience that commonly takes me back to my own childhood and the magical Christmastimes of my youth. While I fondly recall gatherings with family, church services and delicious meals and sweets, what I remember best is the array of toys over the years.
Interestingly, I have even bought some of the same gifts for my guys that I received as presents from my parents “back in the day.” Of course, technological advances have changed “toys” drastically since my childhood. However, this isn’t the case with many items such as dolls, basic sporting equipment (bats, balls, gloves), toy soldiers and bicycles.
As I stare down my 50th birthday, coming in just a few short weeks, I can’t help but think of what my parents endured at Christmastime, shopping for me and my brothers. I then think of my grandparents shopping for their kids( my parents), and further back to my great-grandparents approach to Christmas as young parents themselves. That takes me back a century.
If we were to go back in time to 1916, where would we go to shop for yuletide gifts and toys? I searched the newspaper archives and found that Frederick had a bevy of downtown stores, bustling with holiday shoppers in the weeks and days leading up to Christmas. One merchant, above the rest, caught my attention through whimsical advertisements for toys and gifts of all kinds. Best of all, the name of the business was also mysterious, yet awe inspiring—H.F. Shipley’s Temple of Fancy.
As for H. F. Shipley, he was born Harry Franklin Shipley on October 23, 1874 on Frederick’s W. South Street, the son of J. Frederick and Margaret (Baer) Shipley. With his father employed as a general laborer, young Harry had a humble upbringing as the second oldest of ten children. His childhood can be exemplified by a family story of Harry commonly waiting along the railroad tracks in an effort to retrieve lost pieces of coal (that would fly off train cars) for his family to utilize for heating the house.
Now, what is a “Temple of Fancy.” Merriam-Webster defines fancy (items/goods) as novelties, accessories, or notions that are primarily ornamental or designed to appeal to taste, or fancy, rather than being essential. There was actually a renowned “Temple of Fancy” in London, opened in 1810 by two brothers, Samuel and Joseph Fuller. This had become one of the leading print publishing businesses of the Regency and early Victorian periods, selling watercolors, lithographs, sporting prints, and fancy stationary to the masses.
Today our lives are cluttered with “fancy,’ but back in earlier days, novelty items were just that—novelties. This included items such as Christmas Cards, holiday decorations/ornaments, lights, candy, and nouveau accoutrements that made life grander.
Looking back 200 years in Frederick’s history, you’d be hard-pressed to find “fancy” items in 1816. Frederick folks back then were just happy to still have their own country of United States, recently having had to fend off the pesky British again in the War of 1812. The “national pike” ran through town, and was the first federally funded road project, bringing travelers, settlers, farm output and western exploited natural resources through town like never before. Outside of that, everyone just worked hard for subsistence, mostly growing their own food and making clothes and whatever else they needed. You saved up money to buy necessities—like nails, shoes and coal. Slowly but surely, specialty shops began opening as goods could be more easily transported from the larger cities.
I’m guessing that holidays like Christmas were “less than fancy” for young Harry F. Shipley and his siblings, especially when compared to others in the community. Perhaps this precipitated a curious wonderment in his mind, or at the very least gave him the inspiration to change the course for his own children one day and future generations. Harry bettered his lot, and that of his family, by going to work—at the age of 11. Shipley's grandson Matt shared with me the story that H.F (as he is affectionately known to the family) first worked at a grocery store in town. When he was seeking employment to meet the basic needs of his family, a woman named Sarah C. railing at the establishment took pity on the youngster and hired him.
Harry soon gained employment from Mr. David H. Smith, a well-known merchant who operated one of the most colorful and interesting businesses in town, surely making him the envy of his peers. This was Smith’s Temple of Fancy, located on the northeast corner of E. Church and N. Market streets in a building known to locals as Coppersmith's Hall.This veritable “tasting room” for the visual senses brought in plenty of profit (or should I say Proffitt). It was originally begun by Smith’s father, printer and compositor David F. Smith.
David F. Smith was born and raised in Frederick but left town for love and employment, marrying a Baltimore girl (Susan Ford) and working in that city. He was employed by the Baltimore Sun and other newspapers before going into business for himself. The elder Smith operated a stationary and book shop on Gay Street in Baltimore before returning to his hometown and opening his Temple of Fancy in 1848.
I’m assuming Mr. Smith's store was modeled after the London enterprise of the Fuller brothers. The younger David H. Smith would take hold of the operation in 1880 and add greatly to a business that specialized in selling items such as commercial art prints, cards and stationary. He was an excellent marketer and the store's reputation seemed to be very well-known. An article from the Frederick Daily News, dated December 16, 1886, sung the praise of the establishment under the heading "Christmas at Smith’s:"
The Temple of Fancy has become one of the established institutions of Frederick, and especially at Christmastime, it is the center of attraction. The article went on to say “The Temple is certainly the headquarters for Santa Claus, if that great old genius has any idea of what good headquarters are.”
The article boasted that Smith's Temple of Fancy featured “goods purchased from 147 separate and distinct metropolitan establishments, representing many separate and distinct lines, and the summary embraces everything from a toy whip to the most handsome and elaborate parlor, toilet or general household necessities or ornaments.”
(See this article in its entirety below at end of article)
Harry F. Shipley would pass his formative years in the employ of Mr. Smith. His job had him extending Christmas Spirit to kids of all ages. Still a kid, himself, the young clerk was in the position of sharing keen advice to parents on the latest, greatest toys. I’m sure he also gave pointers on obtaining lumps of coal for stocking stuffers to parents of “naughty” kids.
In the mid 1890's, Harry was given the job as bicycle agent for the firm. The wheeled machines were all the rage, and advertisements under Shipley's name regularly appeared in the local paper.
After 11 years of working for Mr. Smith, 22 year-old Harry struck out on his own in conjunction with another former co-worker, George S. C. Bopst (also buried here in Mount Olivet). This was 1897, and their new venture came to be known as Shipley and Bopst. Bicycles and motorcycles would be a specialty of the business, along with other sporting goods. They would eventually acquire the Temple of Fancy business name from David H. Smith when the latter left for another job opportunity in 1901.
Eleven more years would pass in Harry’s life before another major “business” change. He bought out Bopst on January 1, 1909. From that point on, Shipley conducted the business under his own family name and would eventually be aided by sons Harry M. and Dorsey F. Shipley.
Harry F. Shipley was an active sportsman, fraternalist and ardent Democrat. His employment could definitely be called a “life’s work” for he spent 50 years at the same Frederick location. Well actually, there was a slight change of venue as Harry had erected a new building at 103-107 N. Market St., making it one of the largest stores of its kind in Maryland. The structure still bears his family name today on its upper brick façade, but is better known as the home to Firestone’s Restaurant. In keeping with tradition, I understand that Firestone’s official name is Firestone’s Culinary Tavern—certainly a much “fancier” moniker.
In 1912, he signed an agreement to lease the first floor of the corner building next door at 101 North Market and West Church streets. He made major improvements to the structure including the large expanses of plate glass windows that still exist today, adorning the Tasting Room Restaurant.
H. F. Shipley’s Temple of Fancy remained the "go-to" Christmas headquarters for decades to come. It was usually decorated for the latest holiday, and carried a wide variety of merchandise ranging from toys, athletic goods, radios, and notions. It was one of the first to carry phonographs and records. Harry remained active, and beloved in the community. The “family discount” on store items must have come in handy, as he had 15 children to buy for at Christmas. He was twice married, beginning at the ripe age of 20. His first wife was Fannie Easterday (1873-1915) and second Mary Cramer.
The Shipleys resided at 416 N. Market St. in Downtown Frederick. Another member of this household was not a family member by blood, but by friendship, compassion and love. This was the widowed Sarah C. Railing. When learning that the lady who helped him get his first job (at age 11 in the grocery store) was down on her luck with no place to go, H.F. took her into his home in the 1890's. Ms. Railing would live with the Shipleys until her death in February, 1920 at the age of 93.
Harry was a member of All Saints Church, belonged to the Junior Fire Company, No. 2, King David Lodge of the International Order of Odd Fellows, Sons of American Revolution, Frederick Lions Club (Charter Member), Frederick County Fish and Game Association and the Elks Club.