I ran into an article on the Interwebs telling about how old postcards are time capsules, left by people in the past to take us back for a slice of history. It was quite a pleasant article, with nice illustrations (the kind of thing we try to do here) and I DO intend to steal the idea for today’s blog, but there is that inside me which moves me to register one slight objection.
See, old postcards are NOT time capsules. Time capsules were left specifically for the purpose of sending information to the future, while postcards were matters of immediate moment. No one even THOUGHT about them being read by anyone but the recipient and maybe the mail deliverers and the postmaster. Yes, they can take us back in time, but they weren’t meant to. Those document boxes I was given at the Book Fair by a middle school which had its students assemble time capsules in grade school in the seventies to be opened in the distant twenty-twenties, but then got tired of storing them and dumped them on me—those were intentional. Or a time capsule would be left to be retrieved by the people who made it, like those college seniors of the 1880s who buried a letter, a fruitcake, and a bottle of whiskey to be unearthed thirty years hence at a class reunion. (I often wonder how many of those fruitcakes are still buried on Midwestern campuses. I assume someone retrieved the whiskey the first time they got thirsty.)
But I know what the writer of that article MEANT, and so I am going to repurpose her basic thesis and show you a few postcards which hide a chance for time travel to people reading them in 2022.
At the top of this column is a simple card made by a company to encourage stores to stock their product: picture of the product, space for the order. But what the heck is “Washing-Tea”? It’s a laundry soap named from the idea that women who used it could have the laundry done by nine o’clock, and stop for a cup of tea. Different world: nowadays we toss the laundry in the machine and ask Alexa to start the teapot.
This little card was printed, message and all, for the YMCA in England to hand to members of the American army landing to take part in World War I. No need for the censors to check it for sensitive information spies might read. It was a quick and easy way to tell someone back home you’d made it this far, before texting was invented.
From the same era comes this announcement of a meeting of a German language church group which is saving money by putting its New Year’s Party invitation for 1918 on the leftover cards from 1917. They had to economize, as the club was undoubtedly having a hard time. In Iowa, where it was mailed, public use of German had been outlawed with the start of the war. Did they get together to welcome 1919?
Return with us now to those thrilling days before streaming, Netflix, and cable, when going to a movie involved going out of your house. Not every theater could afford to book first run movies, so how to advertise reruns? Easy, explain that you’re booking only those movies that you KNOW will be interesting (because millions of people saw them three years ago.)
This was a fold-out postcard. Here’s what you found inside, in case you wondered who was still box office when the movie was five years old.
This card goes back to when even telephones were rare and expensive items, at least for a salesman out in his territory. The Des Moines Register and leader Company expected a daily postcard from its sales reps, with a note on what they were doing and where they could be found over the next couple of days.
Here’s a card which demonstrates in a couple of ways how the world has changed. The Delbridge Company made its founder’s fortune by providing pages and pages of mathematical computations for how much this many bales of that would cost at this price. No pocket calculators yet, much less phones with calculators in them. You looked up the page with the amount and the price per, and the columns of figures would show you what eighty-three barrels or bales or pounds would cost. (And, because it was a different world, Mr. Delbridge took his money and founded a new town devoid, by his decree, of laws or rules except for The Golden Rule. You couldn’t live there unless you promised to abide by that basic premise. It, um, started well.)
I have been able to learn nothing about the Sunrise Club, but the place it met was used for that purpose by many clubs, including the famous Turtle Club, which annually elected its president by a method which would NOT go over today. The Turtle Club served bowls of very rich turtle soup at its dinners. Whoever could consume the most bowls of this soup and still walk around the dining room became the president. (Lawsuits would put the club AND the meeting place out of business in one year these days.)
And here’s a little time capsule to let us know that NOT everything has changed. This was mailed out for the first conference of a group which still exists today. And I betcha even today they have to remind their members to go through the buffet line just once or prices will go up next year.
Enough of this. I’m going to get out my metal detector and go prospecting for buried fruitcake. No, not to eat: the holiday gift season is coming.