Who doesn’t eat chocolate at Christmas? Here in York, chocolate has been tied up with yuletide festivities for more than a hundred years. Rowntree’s first Victorian Christmas lines were very similar to their year-round lines, with the addition of festive wrapping.
Tins of Rowntree’s cocoa were advertised as Christmas Crackers, and boxes of chocolates sported seasonal tops.
When Henry Isaac Rowntree first began manufacturing eating chocolate in the 1860s it was a rare luxury, but by 1904 (when this Christmas sales catalogue dates from), chocolate and sweets were becoming a common festive purchase.
As Rowntree’s range of chocolates grew, so did their sales and it wasn’t long before Christmas hampers began to appear in their sales catalogues, which in turn gave way to the Christmas selection box.
Rowntree’s early selection boxes were not the light stocking-fillers that we see in supermarkets today. Our 21st century selection boxes are much more accessible purchases, just a few pounds, compared to this costly selection box of 1925.
Early Rowntree’s selection boxes were extravagant affairs, they weren’t little token gifts to give to the paperboy, they were a main present. Rowntree’s set up Christmas clubs to help families to save up for these items long in advance.
Consumers would take their Christmas Club card to their confectioner or grocer each week, pay an instalment and have their card signed. This helped more consumers to afford the luxurious gift, but it also helped the factory to anticipate how much demand there would be for their product.
The contents of some of the early selection boxes might look strange to a modern consumer; sets of cutlery, carriage clocks, and vases were often included.
In the early 1930s, selection boxes began to include toys, and other children’s presents. Some of them even incorporated games into the packaging itself.
The status of the Christmas selection box changed during the post-War era.
Thanks to larger disposable incomes, selection boxes became a much more accessible purchase, and Rowntree’s didn’t seem to feel the need to include anything in them but their sweets, although the theme of cut-out games on pack continued.
And then, sometime in the 1970s, selection boxes became selection packs and there was no more room for cut-out games.
Rowntree’s began to play with the idea of the selection box and released smaller selection crackers, and for a while, selection stockings and selection sacks.
The selection box came a long way from its original roots as a hamper, but its popularity increased as more and more consumers were able to afford to give them.
Our modern selection boxes have become much simpler. They are not weighed down by carriage clocks, cutlery or complicated gadgets. They are simply boxes of chocolates, just like the first Rowntree selection boxes would have been.
This year we’ve added an extra craft activity, so that before putting your cardboard selection box in the recycling you can use it to make a Santa hat. Look out for Nestlé selection boxes in your local supermarket.