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Holiday Postcards—An Early Twentieth Century Tradition

During the first three decades of the 20th century, millions of people sent lithographed post cards as greeting cards and collecting these cards became a popular past time. The Whitewater Historical Society’s Depot Museum of Local History has a collection of these interesting post cards. Within the collection is a large scrapbook of early twentieth century lithographed post cards donated by the Burgett family a number of years ago. These post cards were sent to members of the Burgett family around 1909 to 1912 and show the beauty of these cards and how they resemble greeting cards that we still send today.

The cards in the Burgett family scrapbook that were received for Christmas and New Years are similar in sentiment and feature scenes that are still commonly seen on Christmas cards produced today. Most feature “secular” scenes of winter (above, 1909), and greenery associated with the holidays, but some have religious messages as well. In the Burgett collection, most cards are either Christmas or New Years’ greetings, as seen in the following illustrations from 1910 and 1912.

The lithographed postcards of this era were beautifully executed as seen in the following card from 1910. The fancy dressed woman and bold foliage is drawn in the Art Nouveau style, popular at the time. This art style emphasized floral motifs, curved lines, and flowing forms.

Only a few cards expressed both Christmas and New Years’ messages, as in the following one from 1910. The postcard was inexpensive and it appears that most people sent separate greetings for both holidays.

On this card, both holly and evergreen boughs are emphasized, decorations we still use today.

The last card is ironic. It expresses “Best Christmas Wishes” with a young girl on the telephone and has the sentiment, “A Merry Christmas over the phone! May it be the best you have ever known!” The card is ironic because it was the popularity of the telephone, which came to most homes by the 1920s, that sounded the death knell for lithographed postcards. People found the telephone more convenient for short messages than purchasing postcards.

Travelers still found using real photo post cards popular well into the mid-twentieth century but when inexpensive greeting cards became available, most people sending holiday wishes changed to greeting cards.

*If using this article, please cite, Carol Cartwright, “Holiday Postcards—An Early Twentieth Century Tradition”, Whitewater Historical Society website, Whitewater, WI.

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