Collectors Are Grateful For Thanksgiving Day Postcards

November 14, 2012

Postcards of Thanksgiving Day, a uniquely American holiday stretching back to the earliest days of settlement in the New World, have long been collectible. This is due to their themes of patriotism, history and comedy. Some are graced by the presence of Uncle Sam, the American eagle and Old Glory. The most reoccurring topic, though, is family scenes of the past.
Of all the holidays celebrated by postcards during the first two decades of the 20th century - and they include tens of thousands of different artistic designs, only those for Christmas were more family oriented than Thanksgiving Day.
Some Thanksgiving postcards are comical; the favored portrayal being children confronting or being chased by an aggressive turkey. A rare few contain scenes of blacks, making them desirable from two collecting viewpoints. Often confused with “pure” Thanksgiving cards are those depicting Pilgrims and early Massachusetts Bay Colony and Plymouth scenes, particularly those issued by A.S. Burbank Co.
There were even a few advertising postcards issued for the day. One is a double-fold card, drawn by famed etcher Bernhardt Wall, of a child leading a turkey by a string. Inside could be found advertising by the International Tailoring Company of New York and Chicago. Another, a black-and-white photo style, promoted the North Platte Valley Co-Operative Poultry Marketing Association. Pictured is the turkey destined for President Calvin Coolidge’s dinner table.
Signed artist postcards, eternally popular regardless of subject matter, form the pinnacle of this topic. Most of the great artists of the day were involved. Francis Brundage, famous for her children, did Thanksgiving designs for Gabriel & Sons. Ellen Clapsaddle illustrated several sets for New York City’s International Art Company. Her employer also sold several Thanksgiving Day sets by other artists.
Of all publishers involved with marketing souvenir postcards for this holiday, the firm of John Winsch is generally considered to have created the loveliest. The company, a latecomer to the industry, produced postcards for a brief ten years. Winsch began business at a time when postcards were losing their appeal with the general public and store shelves overflowed with cheap imports from overseas.
The copyright years for Winsch’s Thanksgiving postcards are 1910 through 1915, and then a lapse of time until the last date, 1920. The Winsch set favored by most collectors came out in 1912. This magnificent set of six postcards recalls different Thanksgiving Days of the last 300 years.
Another important distributor was Raphel Tuck & Sons, of London, England. Their New York City branch office marketed at least 17 different sets between 1906 and 1914. Like most of their holiday greeting postcards, these were intended for over-the-counter sales to the general public. People bought them to mail and exchange with friends and relatives. Retailers continued to sell left-over Tuck stock well into the 1920.
Of the 17 sets, series number 1234 of 24 cards, which included some drawings by R.J. Wealthy, ranks as the most plentiful. It appeared on store racks throughout the East, South and Midwest every Thanksgiving season for many years after its first printing in 1910. Scenes of turkeys dominate - they are portrayed driving a car, standing in an open pumpkin field, strolling down a lane, in parade formation, and being chased by a man wielding a hatchet. Some of the printings had gold borders.
Laubrie & Elkus (identified by the initials “L&E”) sold postcards for most holidays, including Thanksgiving. Practically their entire line was designed by one artist, H.B. Griggs, whose “HBG” signature is familiar to many collectors. Part of his (or her) 400, or so, designs included approximately seven sets of six cards each for the November holiday. More than any other artist, Griggs interjected a great comedic touch into his or her often quirky Thanksgiving “Day postcards.
Other publishers heavily involved in printing Thanksgiving Day postcards for pre-1920 America were E. Nash, which was responsible for at least 27 different sets; P.F.B., a much admired German company which exported three sets of six into this country; Fred Lounsbury, whose two sets were on sale in 1907 and 1908; and P. Sanders, with seven sets.
Surprisingly, Uncle Same can be found on many postcards for the holiday. Our nation’s favorite folk hero is often shown sharing honors with, of all things, a turkey. Long recognized as a distinctively American icon, Uncle Sam was a natural for the cards of Thanksgiving since the holiday is so patriotic and historical.
Novelties abounded. These ranged from add-ons of turkey and Pilgrim figures to mechanicals of turkeys with kaleidoscopic tails. There were also postcards with real feathers attached to illustrations of turkeys.
Thanksgiving Day postcards are as diverse a category as can be found anywhere. Collectors have always considered them to be a nice complementary to their Americana category, as well as a separate topic all to itself.

 

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