Thursday, December 29, 2016

If this is Thursday it must be postcards, 279

Father Christmas & child, ca early 1900s

"Hoping you had a Merry Xmas and will have a Happy New Year" the message on this postcard seemed appropriate for the Thursday following Christmas.  The card shared this week was published by E.A. Schwerdtfeger & Co. London F.C. and New York and was printed at their factory in Berlin, Germany.  The card does not have a stamp or cancellation mark but has a message so it may have been hand delivered or included with a gift. The company logo, EAS, is centered on the reverse within a heart shape.  I have estimated the date to be between 1910 and 1915 based on the divided back (1908), the addition of New York for the company (1910), and the way the child is dressed in the picture but it could be a few years later.

E.A. Schwerdtfeger & Co. was established in 1894 and although the Berlin factory suffered severe damage during World War II they reopened and became one of Germany's largest greeting card companies.  Prior to the war in addition to the real photo postcards, like the one above, they also published calendars and glanzbilder or glossy photographs.  Many of the early postcards were hand colored and this card shows some evidence of added color on the fur trim, the pig (upper right), pail, doll, tree ornaments, and the little girl's sash.  It is hard to tell if the colors are as bright as they were originally.  Schwerdtfeger card subjects were most often actresses, children, coronation portraits, and holidays but this company was noted for postcards featuring fashionable women often in exotic costumes.  In 1910 the company expanded with an office in New York.  Later, in 1922, the Mimosa paper manufacturer became a large shareholder and took over the postcard department of the company. 

There are many Christmas details found on the card.  It is almost like a "Where's Waldo" game to see how many one can find.  Father Christmas the traditional English name for Santa Claus or Saint Nicholas is the dominant image.  The original Saint Nicholas, fourth Bishop of Myra, Turkey, was known for his alms-giving and was very generous to the poor, most often secretly.  The Father Christmas on the postcard holds a bell announcing the joy of Christmas and possibly the ringing in of the new year ahead.  He is leaning on a staff or cane representing a shepherd's crook.  At his waist is a doll with a bag of small toys and a bucket.  Another bucket or pail can be seen near his shoulder just below the pig.  A small sailboat is near the pail.  Pails and buckets for water were often in evidence as practical necessities when a tree held burning candles!  The little girl seems entranced by the tree decorated with balls and tinsel. One story about why tinsel was used on Christmas trees told of a poor family who did not have any decorations.  Spiders spun webs that were magically turned into silver and from then on tinsel was hung on the trees.  The ball ornaments might represent fruit, such as oranges, that were in scare supply during the winter and were a traditional Christmas treat.  The candles or lights remind the faithful that Christ was the Light of the World.  There are many more symbols and legends associated with Christmas.  

For additional information, see:

Thursday, December 22, 2016

If this is Thursday it must be postcards, 278

Swedish Christmas greeting postcard, 1964

As we rapidly approach the holidays here is a Swedish postcard that was sent by a friend in 1964.  The card was printed in Stockholm by Nordisk Konst and has the number 7800 on the reverse in the lower left corner.  The artist's signature at the lower right corner is hard to decipher.  It looks like it might be Kägfoler or Mägfoler.

The Swedish tomte is similar to the Norwegian nisse and stems from Scandinavian folklore.  They are usually no taller than 3 feet and can be as small as a few inches, have a long white beard, wear a cap, and dress in bright colors, most often red.  The December 2012 postcard Thursday #70 shared a card with Norweigan nisser on it.

The card above shows three children and a jolly tomte swooping down hill on a sled with the Christmas dinner pig in a wicker basket.   The tomte is said to resemble present day garden gnome statues.  Sometimes in stories he is said to be an ancient farmer who was buried on the farm in a mound.  Also thought to be the representation of spirits of previous generations who lived on a family farm some legends suggest that the tomte can follow the family if that family moves to another place.  The tomte also can act as a secret guardian of houses, barns and the entire farmstead.  However, since he is also known to have a quick temper and become easily offended he will play tricks and may even steal things or maim livestock.  He is said to have immense strength, especially given his small size.  Following the establishment of Christianity in Scandinavia the tomte was seen to be heathen and fell out of favor for a time.   The modern tomte; however, is more benign and associated with gifts much like Father Christmas or Santa Claus.

 He is often seen with a pig, another popular holiday symbol thought originally to be associated with fertility.  Today the traditional Scandinavian Christmas dinner includes a ham.  As a sign of gratitude for the secret protective services of the tomte a bowl of porridge topped with butter is put out for the tomte.  And that is not unlike the plate of cookies often left for Santa.  Pictures of tomtar and nisser are frequently found on Christmas cards, calendars, and appear in children’s books.  They hide from humans and are often able to use magic.  

The stamps on the card are rather plain but since no other Swedish stamps have been shared so far, they are included below.  The blue stamp shows the profile of King Gustav VI Adolf (1882-1973).  The red stamp with the postage amount.

For more information, see:

Thursday, December 15, 2016

If this is Thursday it must be postcards, 277

 "Winter at the mountain -- descent of the ridges"

Jullien brothers are attributed as the photographers and editors of this early 1900s vintage postcard that was printed in Geneva, Switzerland.  The identification number J.J. 3056 is found on the same line as the caption.  The scene shows mountain logging by sled or sledge with the caption in English as:  “Winter at the mountain – descent of the ridges.” 

I tried to find other pictures and some additional information about the sleds or sledges but did not find much.  Generally the name sledge implies a heavier sled used for moving objects such as the logs shown.  Some of the photos I did find showed logs piled high on the sledges while these seem to have smaller loads.  The man guiding the front sled holds on to the top portion of the runner and uses his feet to help slow down.  The upright pole on the side is some type of hand brake.  The large log cargo is chained down to two long logs that appear to act similar to a travois as well as a braking device.  The second sled has more logs piled on it and the long travois logs look to be in an upright position.  The driver of that sled has one of his hands on the brake and his feet are more buried in the snow as he follows the first sled.  It is hard to tell if the brake bar is connected to the two long poles and could perhaps lift or lower them when descending a steep slope or is an extra long drag pole to slow the descent.  Accompanying the two sled drivers is a third person on skis. 

The number of ruts in the snow along this trail suggests that several such sleds have come down this same route.  The men are traditionally dressed for work and must have been quite warm even in the snow from the hard labor needed to do this job.  What an amazing peek into how logs were transported down a mountainside more than 100 years ago. 

For general information about sleds, see:

Thursday, December 8, 2016

If this is Thursday it must be postcards, 276

Caryatides and Erechtheum, Athens, Greece

This moonlit photo view of the Caryatides and Erechtheion (Erechtheum) in Athens, Greece by G. A. Guizi graces a postcard from the 1970s printed in Greece and sent by a friend in January 1973.  The caryatides are female figures support pillars seen above at the right center.  There were six “maidens of Karyai” holding up the flat roof beam on their heads.  This part of the temple is known as the Porch of the Maidens.  In 1801 Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin (1766-1841) removed one of the statues to decorate his Scottish mansion.  It was later sold to the British Museum in London, England where it still is today.  Lord Elgin had obtained a controversial permit from the Sublime Porte in Greece.  His agents not only removed one of these figures but also about half the surviving sculptures of the Parthenon, and others from the Propylaea.  Known as the Elgin Marbles the sculptures were transported by sea to Britain.  Lord Byron and others likened Elgin's actions to looting or vandalism.  The ownership controversy continues today with Greece wanting the art returned and the British Museum resisting.

The space where Elgin's caraytid stood has not been filled and remains empty.  Legend has it that the remaining five maids can be heard at night wailing for their lost sister.  The rods seen between some of the figures on the card are where the pillars have been removed or were broken during an attempted removal.  The photo on the card was taken before the final removal of the remaining five original figures in 1979 and their replacement by replicas. 

Today these remaining five original statues are in the Acropolis Museum and those found on the temple are replicas.  The statues are made of marble and were cleaned between 2011 and 2015 to remove all the accumulated soot and grime without damaging the patina.  The cleaning was done in place and televised to museum visitors.

There are a couple of legends about the headdress worn by the maidens.  One says that when the Maidens of Karyai performed round dances they carried baskets of live reeds on their heads to emulate dancing plants.  Another tells of the basket carrying sacred objects used at the feasts of Athena and Artemis.  The word “Karyæ” means Walnut Trees and was supposed to refer to one of the six villages that united to form Sparta.  The girls from this area were said to be beautiful, strong, tall and capable of giving birth to strong children.  The image on the card is small and does not adequately show enough detail but pictures on-line do show the baskets on their heads and the beam resting on top of the baskets.   The figures are the same height and are dressed the same but other features such as the face, hair, stance and draping were done separately.  Three stand on the right foot and three stand on the left foot.  The hairstyle helps add support to the neck, which would otherwise prove too weak to hold up the beam.  There is a male counterpart to these female figures called a telamon or atlas referring to the legend of Atlas who held up the sphere of heaven on his shoulders.  The male figures were used on larger scale temples. 

The Erechtheum is an ancient Greek temple dedicated to both Athena and Poseidon.  It was built between 421 and 406 BCE.  It stands on a slope with one side about 9 feet or 3 meters lower.  Built entirely of marble from Mount Pentelikon it has friezes of black limestone with relief in white marble.  There were elaborately carved doorways and windows, and columns that were gilded with gilt bronze and multi-colored glass beads.  This temple was associated with a variety of ancient holy relics of the Athenians and was said to be the burial place of mythical kings.  The temple has gone through multiple repairs, reformations and restorations.  It has been damaged during wars through bombardments, fire, smashing, and dismantling.  Restorations were done in 1977 to 1988, in 1979 the original caryatides were moved to the museum and replacements were installed.  At that time one of the statues was reunited with her foot that had been missing and found in rubble in the 1980s.    Major damage was done to concrete patches to the roof of the porch by air pollution.  In 2005 scientists worked on repairing the damage by using laser cleaning.  The restoration received the Europa Nostra award. 

The stamps on the postcard were issued in 1972.  The one on the left shows a man in a national costume.  The right stamp has a pattern or design.  

For more information and additional photos, see:,_7th_Earl_of_Elgin

Thursday, December 1, 2016

If this is Thursday it must be postcards, 275

Moscow State University, Moscow, Soviet Union, 1960

This is a Linen-Type postcard with a picture of the Moscow State University in Moscow, Soviet Union (Russia) from 1960.  It was sent by a friend who was studying biological sciences at this university that is rated among the best in the world.  The message reads:   “Just a little picture of the fine university where I live and study.  Everything is going fine but I shall soon be extremely busy.”   The university was founded in 1755 and was originally called Lomonosov Moscow State University after Ivan Shuvalov and Mikhail Lomonosov promoted the idea of a university in the city to the then Russian Empress Elizabeth who decreed its establishment 25 January 1755.  Russians still celebrate the anniversary of its founding as Students’ Day. 

There are what look to be photography credits on the reverse and a brief explanation of what is shown on the postcard but I do not have a Cyrillic option for translation so I am reproducing that section of the card reverse below. 

Originally the university was located in the city of Moscow but in 1953 it was moved about 3 miles or 5 km southwest of the city center.  As the city has grown the university is once again within the city limits.  Following the October Revolution of 1917 admission was expanded to include children of the proletariat and peasantry.  In 1919 fees for tuition were abolished to help working-class children prepare for entrance examinations.  During Joseph Stalin’s First Five Year Plan of 1928-1932 prisoners from the Gulag were forced to work on the newly expanded university.  The main building pictured on the card was the tallest building outside of New York City when it was built.  The central tower is a littler over 787 feet or 240 meters tall, 36 stories high, and has four wings that contain faculty and student accommodations.  It has 5,000 rooms and about 20 miles or 33 km of hallways.  

The stamps are interesting from a historical perspective.  The stamp at the left is of Lenin and the Revolution, the middle stamp shows the back side of the Moon during the Sputnik era, and the right stamp commemorates Kruschev’s visit to the United States in 1959.

For additional information, see: