This week we were thrilled to make an incredible discovery while we were delving into Tom Smith’s history!
We were doing a little detective work into mentions of Tom Smith and the history of Christmas Crackers during Victorian times. The game was afoot – and to our delight and surprise, we found the December 1891 edition of The Strand Magazine that contains a report from the Tom Smith factory alongside one of the original Sherlock Holmes stories!
The Strand Magazine is most famous for the deerstalkered detective’s appearances, as told through the diary of John Watson. 1891 was actually its inaugural year, and Tom Smith features in its 12th edition! The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is the next article after the factory tour, telling of “The Man with the Twisted Lip”. It’s a cracker, we highly recommend that you read it… after reading about the way Christmas crackers were made in the 1890s, of course!
The Tom Smith factory in 1891
“Messrs. Tom Smith & Co., of Wilson-street, Finsbury, are really the creators of the Christmas crackers we now know it,” the Strand reports, adding that at that time “they manufacture eleven millions in a single season.”
There are wonderful descriptions of life inside the 1891 factory, including the way a worker makes up a cracker by hand:
“First she took a slip of paper – this was the inner lining; round this she wrapped the gelatine, adding two decorating ends or fringes, and then put in the detonator, the explosive paper tape, and it was ready to receive its contents… Her fingers travelled faster than the pencil in our note-book.”
We still hand-craft our beautiful crackers today, albeit with slightly different methods (and no gelatin!).
Christmas crackers in Victorian times
It’s wonderful to find such a treasure trove of history, showing the place that Tom Smith has had in British Christmas traditions for a century and a half. (Oscar Wilde, it transpires, was also a big fan of the Christmas cracker!) And the thrill of seeing Sherlock Holmes in his original incarnation right next to a part of our own history was very special indeed. Though it’s not a physical piece of Tom Smith’s history, we think it deserves a place in the Tom Smith Treasure Hunt!
The full PDF of Issue 12 of The Strand is available on the Internet Archive – Tom Smith is on page 65, Sherlock Holmes on page 72. We’ve also embedded it here so that you can have a look!