Thanksgiving is a beloved holiday, and it’s easy to see why. Families and friends come together to stuff themselves with delicious food, express gratitude, and sometimes fall asleep on the couch while watching football on TV.
It’s widely believed that the first Thanksgiving meal was in 1621, shared between the Pilgrims who had settled in Plymouth, Massachusetts and the Wampanoag Indians. Much of the iconography of the vintage Thanksgiving postcards created between 1898 and 1918 comes from the myths surrounding that first Thanksgiving. Images feature Pilgrims in quaint old-fashioned white-and-black garb, pointed hats, white bonnets, and buckled shoes. In contrast, the Indians are often shown as caricatures, barely dressed with brightly colored face paint, feathers, headdresses, and beads. Modern-day historians say none of this is remotely true to the real event.
Turkeys, too, show up in many a vintage Thanksgiving postcards, even though the Pilgrims and Wampanoags didn’t dine on turkey that day, either. Still, it’s hard not to be grateful when you’re present with a turkey feast including pumpkin pie, corn, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, and a cornucopia of other delights, regardless whether it was on the first Thanksgiving menu.
More than 200 years passed after that first Thanksgiving before a U.S. president, Abraham Lincoln, decided this holiday would be commemorated on the last Thursday of November. Even later still, in 1941, Congress made Thanksgiving Day a national holiday, after a campaign by magazine editor Sarah Josepha Hale, who penned the nursery rhyme "Mary Had a Little Lamb."
Even though Victorian Thanksgiving postcards were made by top postcard publishers (Raphael Tuck) and postcard artists (Ellen Clapsaddle), they are possibly the least collected of holiday postcards. This is possibly because the colors and images tend to be more subdued, like a tryptophan-induced coma.
However, Samuel Schumucker, known for his Halloween cards, did some of his very best work for this holiday in cards published by John Winsch. Some of the best Winsch cards have die-cut pop-up parts called projections. The mysterious postcard artist that generally signed his or her illustrations as “H.B.G.” proudly signed two Thanksgiving cards as “H.B. Griggs.”
Some of the most collectible Thanksgiving cards are what’s known as Hold-to-Light cards. These may have an outline of an image covered by thin layers of paper so that a part of the picture only reveals itself when held up to a light. Others simply have die cut stained-glass-window effects using thin pieces of colored paper. Some of the most coveted Thanksgiving cards depict Uncle Sam or Lady Liberty with a turkey.