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Holiday catalogs and toys from the 20th century to today on display in Naper Settlement’s new exhibit

Naper Settlement presents the history of the holiday season with images from vintage catalogs along with well-loved toys throughout the 20th century to today in the museum’s new exhibit, “The Wish List: A Season of Holiday Catalog Dreams.”

Now on view, the exhibit combines holiday catalog pages with the toys that came from them to celebrate the imagination of children, the hard work of their families, and the magic of the season.

Toy dump trucks, trains, and cars are always a favorite under the Christmas tree at Naper Settlement’s “The Wish List: A Season of Holiday Catalog Dreams” exhibit.
– Courtesy of Naper Settlement

In 1933, something new arrived in mailboxes across the United States — “The Sears Christmas Book,” also known as the “Wish Book” or the “Book of Wishes.”

At their peak, holiday catalogs were several hundred pages long. The museum’s holiday exhibit contains images of various pages from these catalogs along with iconic toys from the 20th century to today.

Handmade wooden toys, early 20th century children’s instruments, dolls, board and card games, electronics, automobile toys, and more are displayed in the exhibit. Old toy commercials are also playing in one of the exhibit galleries.

“The idea for this exhibit was to be whimsical and nostalgic, by including lots of holiday catalog images from 1941 all the way up to the present and by showcasing iconic toys from each decade,” said Dina Spoerl, exhibits team leader at Naper Settlement.

The exhibit also includes interactive experiences. Visitors can play with a variety of popular toys and games from different eras or write a wish list to Santa to place in the museum’s North Pole Express Mailbox.

While walking through the exhibit, visitors will spot four Christmas trees decorated by museum staff. Visitors are encouraged to scan a QR code to vote for their favorite tree.

See the handmade wooden toys and early 20th-century games at

See the handmade wooden toys and early 20th-century games at “The Wish List: A Season of Holiday Catalog Dreams” exhibit at Naper Settlement.
– Courtesy of Naper Settlement

“The Wish List: A Season of Holiday Catalog Dreams” is sponsored by Ron and Claudia Stenger. The exhibit is on view through Jan. 6, 2023.

The museum is open Tuesday to Friday from 10 am to 4 pm with general museum admission, $6 for age 13 or older, $5 for age 62 or older, and $4 for youth, age 4-12.

Naperville residents with proof of residency, children under 4, and members receive complimentary admission. For more information, visit NaperSettlement.org/Exhibits.

Naper Settlement is a nationally accredited, award-winning outdoor living history museum set on 13 magnificent acres in the heart of Naperville. Located 30 miles from Chicago, the museum is home to thirty-one historical structures dating back as early as the 1830s. Featuring exhibits, special events, educational programming and more, Naper Settlement is where history comes alive and the community comes to connect. For more information, visit www.napersettlement.org or call (630) 420-6010.

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