Patriotic collectibles from the early 20th century
"A citizen, first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen." These were the words contained in a resolution adopted by Congress on December 19, 1799 when word reached them of the first president's passing. This immortal remark has now become part of our national heritage and there is hardly anyone who, upon hearing it, does not know to whom it refers. In an iconoclastic age, the image of the stern "Father of His Country" still persists despite recent attempts to depreciate him.
His deification began during the 19th century and continued to accelerate until after World War I. The picture postcard era, coming as it did between the years 1890 to 1916, helped to continue the process. A collection of such souvenir postcards is a study of America's glorification of its patriotism and love for is past heroes.
Cards of George Washington generally fall into three categories:
1. Washington's Birthday - the postcards issued in celebration of our first president's birthday on February 22nd (as adjusted by a major calendar change well over a century ago). These were the postcards that were freely exchanged between friends and relatives in the same manner Christmas cards are mailed today.
2. Presidential - the normal postcards published about Washington and not intended for his birthday celebration. This category includes such cards as those by Detroit Publishing Company and the Rotograph Company, so familiar to many collectors. These are also many cards of Washington to be found in the various presidential sets.
3. Miscellaneous - the use of George Washington's portrait on general greetings and on other miscellaneous patriotics and politicals.
There are some sets, such as the Open Book by Anglo American Company, that, while not specifically meant for use on Washington's Birthday, have come to be associated with that holiday.
This article deals only with the first category and the cards mentioned as being considered part of the Washington's Birthday topical. So vast are these that only cards originally published and sold as sets will be discussed. As any collector of Washington's Birthday postcards knows, there is no end to the number of different cards to be found.
There are over 50 different series in the universe of Washington's Birthday cards published by a score of companies. Nash produced a goodly number - 17 in all, and possibly more. International Art Publ. Co. printed six sets, four of which were designed by Ellen Clapsaddle; L&E offered three sets, two by the artist H.B.G. (Griggs); and the giant of the industry, Raphael Tuck & Sons, marketed four different groups.
For sheer volume, the prize goes to whoever published the notorious "Winsch-back" postcards. This unknown company, if it is even a single firm, was responsible for at least 100 designs, some of them incorporating bits and pieces of the illustrations found on other cards in the same series.
Finally, Whitney Company, home of the mischievous, impish and playful Nimble Nicks of Christmas fame, came out with at least 19 different postcards.
Notable for their beauty are the ones found within Julius Bien's "Washington's Series Number 750." These are nicely executed scenes from the career of Washington with an insert of him amidst patriotic motifs such as flag, eagle, etc. Another nice set is the Gottschalk, Dreyfuss and Davis vignette style.
The most sought after is easily Anglo Americanos two so-called Open Book Series, No. 725 and No. 728. They command the highest prices of any Washington postcard. Each set has six cards and to complete either one is difficult.
B. W. Series No. 373 is interesting for its concentration on children rather than Washington. Treatment is similar to the artist Grigg's slightly irreverent and whimsical approach on the L. & E. sets.
Some miscellaneous singles and less known sets are also worth comment. The 1906 copyrighted card by Roach of scenes from the Battle of White Plains depicts a famous American flag of that period, the "Liberty or Death," on white border and is printed on an undivided back. This and an undivided back advertising card by United Cigar Stores are among the very earliest Washington's Birthday postcards.
Within an unknown publisher's Series No. 383 there is a scene of George and his mother, probably the only instance of his mother appearing on a card. The T.P. Co. Series No. 522 takes a slightly different approach than most cards in showing scenes of people toasting Washington. A very early design is Souvenir Post Card Company's undivided back, black and white illustration of George Washington on one side and a crossed flag inside a wreath topped by the Liberty Bell.
It appears that the Washington's Birthday postcards first began appearing either in 1906 or slightly earlier and continued until World War I, when the postcard fad ebbed dramatically. Some publishers, notably Nash, which kept publishing into the 1920s, did keep printing the topical, but interest was definitely gone by then. \y
Interest continues in all Washington memorabilia, including early 20th-century souvenir postcards. Coupled with the rising wave of patriotism spreading throughout the country, it's a great specialty.