Numerical New Years

I’ve collected a sequence of New Year’s Day cards (+ one poster) from a century ago, when separate New Year’s Day greeting cards were issued by the thousands, both in America and Europe.  The collective “Season’s Greetings”/ “Happy Holidays” cards began to dominate the message after World War II, with the consequence that New Year’s now seems to be a mere afterthought of the Christmas celebration.  New Year’s Day cards are interesting because they feature an assortment of trans-Atlantic traditions and tropes which are supposed to bring good luck in the next year:  pigs are very popular, as are the traditional horseshoes and clovers. There are babies, of course, and the occasional champagne glass or bottle. For some reason, mushrooms appear on a lot of cards, particularly European ones, sometimes with gnomes, sometimes not.  I thought I’d feature “year” cards–in chronological order–from the first decade and a-half of the twentieth century, from my own collection and that of the New York Public Library Digital Gallery.  First off, cards from Germany and Switzerland, followed by my very favorite card (1904):  a lady on a pig against a background of four-leaf clovers, holding a glass of champagne. And mushrooms!  How lucky can you get?

“Smoking New Year’s”, evoking the two-faced Janus, by artist and illustrator Frank Graham Cootes (1879-1960).

10 responses to “Numerical New Years

  • Thoughts on Design

    Your noting when New years card began to disappear after World War 2 triggered a question. Was that when the world began to speed up? When people began to stop savoring their time? Perhaps a conversation about that is for another day. But it is interesting to note and consider how such things as entertaining, letter writing, etc. have changed over the last 50 years.


  • Pam McKee

    Donna: Love the cards! I can explain the use of the pigs (have no idea where the mushrooms come in!):

    In Victorian culture, the pig represented good health, happiness and prosperity. The tradition of a Peppermint Pig started in the 1880’s (in the US – not a European practice).. The pink pig was made (each year during the holiday season) of hard peppermint candy and the tradition was to break the pig after dinner (inside a cloth pouch) using a miniature hammer. The family would then share in eating the pieces, hoping for good fortune in the coming year.
    Thanks and Happy New Year!
    Pam McKee

    • daseger

      Hi Pam, Thanks for commenting; I absolutely forgot that I received a peppermint pig for Christmas last year with instructions to break and eat it on New Year’s Day! I do think the “lucky pig” goes way back in central European tradition, though, as all the German cards have pigs on them and there are even earlier references to the “Glucksschwein” (lucky pig).

  • Philip

    The mushroom question is a very interesting one. I understand the pig and its association with wealth. Here’s an interesting link which touches on the mushroom topic

    • daseger

      So interesting, Philip! I never knew about the mushrooms-for-the-holidays tradition; can’t wait for next year’s decorating! Thanks for the comment and the link.

  • downeastdilettante

    I just caught up with your comment on my blog—great minds think alike—personally, I think you should proceed as planned—after all my focus was really the Victorian renovations and the photos—

  • Penelope

    You just come up with the best topics to cover. I love this post with all the cards and everyone’s comments. My parents always had a pig in the living room (or parlor)… I think it fends of evil spirits or is to remind us that we’re civilized? Donna, what can you tell me about pigs in the parlor?

  • Cotton Boll Conspiracy

    It took me a while to figure out the 1906 card and why the Russian czar and Japanese emperor would be flanking Teddy Roosevelt – then I recalled that Roosevelt had helped negotiate an end to the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 toward the end of 1905. What a fascinating piece of history; thanks for posting.

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