A little girl dressed in her Sunday best is standing next to her brother, who is looking very handsome in a sparkling white sailor suit. They smile into the camera with happy, delighted faces. All around them are wonderful toys - dolls, teddy bears, a toy drum, stacking blocks, a lovely rocking horse. A tabletop Christmas tree, its branches heavy with decorations and tinsel, tells us it is the holiday season, a particularly lucrative one for the lucky children in this photograph.
On the opposite side a charming missive tells the recipient he is missed at this
special time of year. The address seems woefully inadequate by today's zip plus
four standards - no street number and no zip code. And the postage, only 1 cent
to deliver this wonderful sentiment!
BY DONNA C. KAONIS
Source: November 1999 • Antique Doll Collector, Pages 46-48
Photo postcards such as this were enormously popular during the early years of the twentieth century. The camera, once the provenance of a professional photographer, had only recently become a "toy" that nearly everyone could afford.
Events in Britain made it possible for the postcard and the camera to forge a marriage made in heaven. In 1899 the publisher Raphael Tuck convinced the British postal service to accept privately printed (non-government) postcards for delivery. The United States followed suit, and there was a veritable explosion of postcard use.
Advances in color lithography made it possible for firms to crank out thousands upon thousands of cards per day. Postcard and scrap albums were still a popular pastime and instead of being tossed out, these pretty ephemeral vignettes were placed in the family album.
The Kodak Company recognized a wonderful opportunity when they saw it. Special photographic postcard stock was developed and printed with a postcard back. Along with the typical snapshot format, they made available photographs as postcards. Suddenly every amateur was a photographer, and every occasion was something to write home about. Holidays, and especially Christmas, were the perfect time to send loved ones a personal greeting with a photograph of the children and their new toys. Aside from their purely nostalgic appeal, these cards are a visual document of the playthings that were once available.
We can easily imagine the happy relatives joy in seeing an intimate family portrait, only days old. "How they've grown", or perhaps, "they're certainly spoiling those children something silly!"
Bill Gechoff is a collector of many things (his parents were antiquers and he holds them responsible) including toys, dolls, and paper ephemera. He looks for images of children and toys on photo post cards, lithographed cards, and a related category, trade cards. Shops, flea markets, antique shows and specialty postcard shows have produced some fabulous finds, although in the last fifteen years, he has seen prices escalate from a few dollars up to $50.
Still, by comparison to other genuine antiques, quite a bargain!
Trade cards with children and or toys naturally appeal to advertising collectors as well. These were not meant to be mailed but were given away by the merchant to promote his business. On one side of the card there was a brilliant eye-catching chromolithograph, and on the other, an advertising message. As often as not, the product had little or nothing to do with the imagery. Children were simply good advertising ploys, and their cherubic little faces dotted trade cards for alcohol, tobacco, even farm implements.
During their heyday, from the mid 1880s until 1900, people collected trade cards, often arranging them in albums by subject or theme. Today these revealing little pieces of paper tell much about our society during the late nineteenth century, and because of their incredible range and variety, a collection be as specific as a particular type of product, or as broad as Bill Gechoff's in his choice of subject matter.
As we prepare to send out our annual holiday greetings in this, the last year of the millennium, we can take comfort that, for children at least, the magic and mystery of Santa Claus continues unabated. As Francis Church, the editor of the New York Sun put it so beautifully and succinctly in his reply to a sad little girl who was told by some friends there was no Santa Claus:
"Virginia your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticisms of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. "
... Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
"Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your Papa to hire men to watch all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did see him coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see.
" ... No Santa Claus! Thank God! He lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now he will continue to make glad the hearts of childhood."