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Sharing Thanks
by Bob Brooke


Thanksgiving Day greetings were usually sent to friends and relatives as an invitation or as a “keep in touch” greeting, but it was the early postcards that carried the message to millions of homes each year for the cost of one cent. But people sent Thanksgiving Day greetings long before the postcard came on the scene. The oldest Thanksgiving Day greeting dates back to 1881.

The postcards of Thanksgiving Day have long been collectible because of their patriotic. historic, and comedic themes. Uncle Sam appears on some of them, often sharing honors with, of all things, a turkey. Long recognized as a distinctively American motif, Uncle Sam was a natural for these since he’s an American icon. The American eagle and “Old Glory,” also share the spotlight, but the most recurrent topic of postcard illustrations is an American family of the past celebrating Thanksgiving.

Much of the iconography of the vintage Thanksgiving postcards created between 1898 and 1918 comes from the myths surrounding the first Thanksgiving. Images feature Pilgrims in quaint old-fashioned white-and-black garb, pointed hats, white bonnets, and buckled shoes. In contrast, postcards often showed the Indians as caricatures, barely dressed with brightly colored face paint, feathers, headdresses, and beads. Modern-day historians say none of this is remotely true to the real event.

Novelty cards were also popular. These ranged from add-ons of turkeys and Pilgrims, to mechanicals of turkeys with kaleidoscopic tails.

Of all the holiday cards published, only Christmas was more family oriented than Thanksgiving Day. Some of these postcards featured children confronting or being chased by an aggressive turkey.

Of all the publishers involved who marketed postcards for this holiday, collectors favor those produced by the firm of John Winsch, who published postcards for just 10 years. He began business at a time when the postcard was beginning to lose its appeal with the general public and overseas imports store flooded the shelves of shops.

One of the minor features of the Payne-Aldrich tariff act of July 1, 1909, was its restriction on English and European postcards and paper goods in general. This restraint on imports probably gave Winsch the idea of setting up shop.

Winsch’s company,located in Stapleton, New York, began producing quality novelty postcards to fill the gap left by the lack of foreign imports. At a time when postcards were selling for a penny each retail, or six for a nickel, Winsch's charged two for five cents, even when the Woolworth chain of five-and-dimes reduced prices even lower, to way. His peak year was 1911.

Samuel Schumucker, known for his Halloween cards, created some of his very best Thanksgiving designs for John Winsch. Some of the best Winsch cards ha die-cut pop-up parts called projections.

The copyright years for the Winsch’s Thanksgiving Day postcards run from 1910 through 1915, and then there’s a lapse of time until the last date, 1920. World War I was undoubtedly responsible, most likely due to a shortage of paper and other supplies. The Winsch series favored by most collectors is one of the 1912 copyrights. This magnificent set of six pictures are of different Thanksgiving Days of the past.

Another important publisher of Thanksgiving postcards was Raphael Tuck & Sons. Their New York City branch distributed at least 17 different sets between 1906 and 1914. Like most of their holiday greeting cards, people bought them for mailing to friends and relatives. This is why so many of Tuck's Thanksgiving Day postcards can be found in used condition. Many of the sets went through repeated printings, often with tiny variations of design or wording, and were aggressively marketed for several years. Retailers continued to sell leftover stocks well into the early 1920s.

Of the 17 sets, series 123 of 24 cards, which includes some illustrations by R.J. Wealthy, was by far the most plentiful. It appeared on store racks through the East, South, and Midwest every Thanksgiving season for many years after its first printing in 1910. Scenes of turkeys dominated the illustrations—they appeared driving a car, standing in an open pumpkin field, strolling down a lane, in parade formation, or being chased by a man wielding a hatchet. Some of the printings had gold borders.

Leubrie & Elkus, identified by the initials "L&E," sold postcards for most holidays, including Thanksgiving. H.B. Griggs, whose "HBG" signature is familiar to many collectors, designed almost their entire line.. Part of the artist’s 400, or so, designs included approximately seven sets of six cards each for Thanksgiving. More than any other artists, Griggs interjected a great comedic touch into her often quirky Thanksgiving Day cards.

Other publishers heavily involved in printing Thanksgiving postcards for pre-1920 America were E. Nash, which was responsible for at least 27 different sets, PFB, a much admired German publisher who exported three sets of six into this country, Fred Lounsbury, whose two sets were on sale in 1907 and 1908, and P. Sander with seven sets.

Even though top postcard publishers produced Victorian Thanksgiving postcards, they’re possibly the least collected of holiday postcards. This is possibly because the colors and images tend to be more subdued.

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