In our hampers of Christmas paraphernalia there are some late 19th century cards that demonstrate the concept of generational humour. I assume they were hilarious in their time but today it takes some unpacking to get the point.
There is just enough depth to the collection to suggest several themes (we are always looking for patterns). Most of the cards feel masculine, maybe someone in my family particularly saved manly cards. I hope you are able to read the verses- they work on a larger screen.
This British card has nothing to do with our idea of Christmas but suggests that smoking brown paper was a thing and that gas street lamps were still current.
Next we have a real cigar that maybe is product placement. It’s a Sovereign brand cigar and those are gold sovereign coins along the top. The verse inside is filled with smoke references and puns, and ends by pointing out the horseshoes at the corners of the card. I like “Xmas” written in matches.
A rebus uses pictures to represent words or parts of a word. Maybe on this card you’ll need a little translation? (I did.) “Flowing bowl” refers to drinking too much liquor as in overflowing punch bowl. Pick-Me-Up was a humorous, late-19th century British weekly.
Smoking and drinking, old time Christmas is sounding jolly and debauched. So these are the Victorians.
I had to read the strange little verse several times and I’m still not sure I fully understand. It did make me go back and look at the “cute old spider.”
This lifelike old glove reads like a valentine.
A “Quiet Rubber” might be confusing if you don’t realize that the British call pencil erasers “rubbers.” So the card looks like a life size rubber eraser and when you open it up there are dogs and cats playing a rubber (three games) of whist. Produced by a well known London publisher.
And the last card has a realistic nib pen and a little decorative box that nibs were sold in. The L. Prang label in the box is I guess made up. Prang was the Boston publisher of the card and appears to be doing some self promotion. The card has a copyright date of 1888.
If you are saying to yourself “I which I could send cards like these today!”, don’t despair. The Public Archives of Nova Scotia has reproduced a swell selection of vintage cards from their collections and their introduction to 19th century cards is much more coherent than mine.
They also sell a set of old black and white winter photos that we used last year as our cards. Whoops did we forget to send you one? Maybe this year.