American Holiday Postcards, 1905–1915: Imagery and Context

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Pastoral and monumental: dams, postcards, and the American landscape [Review] more. For both Edwardian migrants and First World War soldiers, communicating home involved a choice as to the appropriate emotional regimes to use. Should they display stoic reserve, or communicate sentimental feeling? Research on Research on correspondence has normally focused on letters, but this paper examines how emotion was dealt with through the multimodal medium of the greetings postcard.

It argues that whilst handwritten texts on postcards remained primarily stoic, the prepackaged visual vocabulary on greetings postcards allowed users to send strongly emotional arguments for the maintenance of their relationships without ever having to put these into their own words. Postcards, it seems, gave the Edwardians the option of being both stoic and sentimental.

Earlier regarded as an insignificant pop-cultural trifle, it has, over the last two decades, begun to receive serious academic attention. This attention has, however, Yet advertisements show that Edwardians within the British diaspora were prepared to pay up to six times more for these cards than for normal tourist views.


This discrepancy between contemporary and Edwardian estimation of the card, it is argued, is itself significant. To explain how the HATS card could be valued thus, the study fundamentally re-situates the history of the postcard, using a wide-ranging, contextualist approach that is both interdisciplinary and multi-methodological. This is why so many postcards feature a woman who has taken control of mistletoe, deciding when and where it will be hung, and when she will choose to be under it and for whom.

Rural landscapes are another good example. On the surface, nothing seems particularly unusual about a Christmas greeting that features a little snow-covered house in the countryside. That sort of mythologized ideal has been around since before the Civil War, when Currier and Ives capitalized on rural nostalgia with their inexpensive prints.

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Still, rural and small-town America was far from a contented place in the first decade of the 20th century. Farm children seemed to be fleeing to cities in droves, with marking the last census of a majority-rural American population. One reason billions of Christmas postcards circulated with nary a cityscape to be seen is that rural Americans were circulating an idealized vision of themselves.

When times seemed tough, all those picture-perfect fields, barns, fences, and country homes became a way to create an alternative narrative—one that was beautiful, healthy, and prosperous. There is something comforting and empowering about controlling the visual elements of a holiday greeting to your friends and family.

Those visuals are not just representing you but a perfected version of you, and your world. These were also the years when the United States saw the peak of European immigration, particularly immigrants from Southern and Eastern European nations like Russia, Lithuania, Italy, and Greece. The postcard fad ended when the best postcards—which were printed in Germany using superior lithographic techniques—were priced out of the market by a newly passed tariff in By , interest was waning as American firms failed to produce postcards of equal quality.

Yet whereas Halloween or Thanksgiving greeting cards never took off the way their postcard predecessors had, Christmas cards have remained an American tradition, if now dressed up in an envelope. Looking back, however, there was something distinctive about the old postcards.

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They put it all out there—hopes, dreams, worries, excitement, wonder, fear, pride, and more—for store clerks and mailmen, nosy neighbors and family members to see and read. What appealed to them and why? Please review our Terms and Conditions of Use and check box below to share full-text version of article.

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American Holiday Postcards, 1905–1915

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