Combustible Cards

At the turn of the last century Fourth of July postcards were extremely popular, purchased in six-packs to send out to family and friends.  There are patriotic cards, featuring eagles and flags, George Washington, Lady Liberty and Uncle Sam, warm-and-fuzzy cards with lots of children and pets running around, and humorous cards, but all of these cards generally feature the prominent placement of firecrackers:  as symbols, as motifs, and as active devices that are blowing up people and animals.

It is a paradoxical coincidence that just as these postcards were being published, several thousand people were sustaining injuries every year from firecracker-related incidents, prompting a “Safe and Sane July Fourth” movement in the first decade of the twentieth century.  Still, even the most sacred American symbolic figures–Lady Liberty, George Washington, Uncle Sam, and the Patriot–are still pictured going literally going up in the flames of firecracker fire.

There are several Independence Day postcards illustrating a darkly humorous acknowledgement of the dangers of firecrackers like the one below:  this particular holiday’s version of “Vinegar Valentines”.

It is always mischievous boys causing trouble, to themselves and some poor animal, even rather illogical ones. Girls are generally more decorative than active, but they always have firecrackers in their midst, even if they’re not setting them off.

Two competing cards:  one that actually asks you to light it up (it’s a piece of paper, I can’t discern any special effects other than burning) and another that encourages you to have a safe and sane holiday.  A pretty boring passive image; I can see why firecrackers were more in demand.

Probably the most effective postcards in terms of their stylistic simplicity are those that don’t picture people (or animals) at all:  merely firecrackers.

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