CM Hat

Dr. Emlen Physick ordered a hat from the John B. Stetson Company, of Philadelphia, which arrived in the box shown here in the late 1800s.


CAPE MAY – Learn about the tremendous changes in how Americans shopped during the Victorian era during guided tours of the 1879 Emlen Physick Estate, 1048 Washington St., beginning April 28 and continuing through April 2018.

American consumerism took off during the Victorian era. People had more money and more goods were available. They were also more widely advertised.

New developments such as department stores, chain stores, mail order catalogues, and enticing advertising drove consumer culture. Department stores played a huge role. When John Wanamaker opened a new Philadelphia store in 1876, only a few dozen U.S. department stores existed. Some five decades later, over a thousand such stores were visited by a hundred thousand shoppers daily.

By 1915, the expression "chain stores" had come into usage and chain grocery stores were evolving into "supermarkets." Mail order catalogues, such as those from Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward, reached millions of Americans in rural areas, while advertising for any company selling consumer goods became a necessity, as competition between purveyors was increasing daily.

The Emlen Physick Estate is an 18-room mansion built in 1879, attributed to renowned architect Frank Furness.

The new house tour theme will be offered through April 2018 (except during the Halloween and Christmas holiday seasons). Guided tours are offered daily through the end of the year; hours vary. Admission is $12 for adults and $8 for children (ages 3-12).

Tours can also be combined with trolley tours of Cape May's Historic District, for $22 for adults and $14 for children (ages 3-12). Also available are Physick Estate Children's Tours, especially geared to children ages 5-10, on Mondays, July 3-Aug. 28. Admission is $8 per person.