On our very first Christmas on the farm, we had very few furnishings, and even fewer holiday decorations. But we really wanted to mark our first Christmas season on the farm with some holiday spirit. Then I remembered the stack of various holiday post cards in the attic that my mother had handed down to me years earlier. So we simply lined them up on the mantle without much thought of design. For whatever reason, they wind up in the same spot every year.
Nearly all of the cards are made out to “Mr & Mrs. Chas Palmer, Greenville NY.” They were my Great Great Aunt and Uncle. The couple lived approximately 45 miles from the Beekman, and their farm still stands. For whatever reason, Mrs Chas Palmer’s collection of postcards were preserved through the years. There are about three dozen in total, from several holidays throughout the year, but mostly Christmas.
These cards mostly date from 1908-1913. Before this time, Christmas cards were not for the masses. They were fairly expensive cards that required fine printing and envelopes. The advent of commercial post cards in America led to the “Golden Age of American Postcards,” lasting from 1898 to 1915. World War I interrupted the import of German postcards, which used the finest printing techniques. Several of our cards are German in origin, as noted in the printers’ mark on the back.
While the fronts of these cards make great, simple holiday decoration, it is the backs of them that hold the real treasures. That’s part of the reason we don’t frame them. We encourage visitors to take them down and read them, one by one. It’s wonderful to see the beautiful cursive handwriting and read the heartfelt holiday messages that, perhaps not surprisingly, aren’t that different from today’s.
While we know that most families don’t save their cards past a couple of years, we think it’s a great idea for everyone to pick up vintage holiday cards that they find in flea markets and antique stores. Not only do they make an inexpensive decoration, but it’s also nice to preserve some long gone, kind soul’s holiday wishes. While they may not have had the chance to know you, we’re pretty sure that they would be happy that they have a second chance to wish someone a wonderful holiday season.
Below are the front and backs of some of our favorites from our collection, and a little history about the tradition of giving holiday post cards. Click on any one to start a slide show with captions explaining their history.