Happy Be Thy Course

I didn’t know until recently that you could call me a deltiologist. I collect postcards, although I usually collect only those from around 1900-1915, the “Golden Age” for postcards. Phone service was still limited then, especially in rural areas, and postcards were easier and speedier than writing letters. Germany, with their gifted lithographers, was producing most of our postcards before World War I. This is one reason I enjoy them–they are so beautiful! Look at this elegant one, postmarked 1919. If you look carefully, you might see the sender has written her initials down on the bottom righthand side.

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The other reason I enjoy collecting them is for the written messages on the back sides. They often give me just a little glimpse into what life was like then. Sometimes when I read them I feel like a mouse sitting in the corner of the parlor and listening in on the conversations. I’ve seen more than one writer mention going for a ride in a car, oviously a big deal. I can often sense concern and love in these quick notes.

What’s on the backside of this beautiful one? “Happy be thy course” transformed into a stern lecture that made me squirm. It was mailed from Indiana to a woman in Iowa, “Dear Cousin: What in the world is the matter with you? Have you forgotten your Indiana cousins? We haven’t heard from you for months! I have sent you a card and a letter and you never answered and Aunt Lizzie said she hadn’t heard. Have you left the country? We are all well. Now answer right away for I’m anxious to hear from you. Ethel.” In Ethel’s defense, people had good reason for concern. So many cards I’ve collected mention diseases and illnesses, like boils, typhoid, grippe, jaundice, German measles, and mumps. Even a toothache could be life-threatening during those years.

Another postcard mailed in 1910 had a more playful message. It’s addressed to a woman in Washington State from a man in Oregon. I’m guessing he might be a brother? He writes, “If it takes a second and a half for a 2 year old ostrich with a neck three feet long to swallow a quart can of salt mackerel, How many false teeth could you make out of an elephant’s trunk if the ostrich choked? We had the baby’s picture taken we will send you one. We are all well fine and dandy. Geo”

After World War I, phone lines were extended out into rural areas, we no longer had the production from the skilled German lithographers, and postcards fell out of fashion.

What didn’t fall out of fashion is the love and caring that shines through so many of these messages, as well as a spirit of strength and endurance in the face of adversity. These remain our legacy. Watch for them in our electronic messages today!



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