Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Christmas Guest

I love finding old Christmas cards at estate sales.

Christmas cards convey their messages of joy, hope, good will and love in all sorts of ways.  Some are sentimental, some are funny; others just cover the basics by saying "Merry Christmas" or "Season's Greetings." If the sender is truly a person of few syllables, the card reads "Noel" or just "Joy."

There's something special about an old Christmas card -- the artwork speaks of a different era, showing design elements that were popular at the time.  

Here is another old Buzza Company Christmas card, originally mailed in 1930. (Previously, I've shared images of other Buzza cards on this blog.) The gorgeous heavy paper has a hand-torn right edge, and the artwork seems to place a Victorian lady and gentleman in an Art Deco world.  Look at the delicacy of the tree branches.

Inside this gorgeous old card, the Christmas verse is not only significant -- it also tells us the name of the author, Edgar A. Guest.

"God Bless You!" That expresses it
In simple words and true
It's what the heart of me would say
If it could speak to you.
May every day be Christmas Day
Until your journey's end,
Is just the simple wish of one
Who's glad to call you friend.

-- From the writings of Edgar A. Guest
(Copyright) The Buzza Co.

Edgar Guest (1881-1959) was born in Birmingham, England, but his parents moved to Detroit, Michigan when he was a boy. When he was 14, Guest got a job as a copy boy for the Detroit Free Press; he moved up the ranks and worked there for 65 years.  The paper published his poetry, then a weekly column called "Breakfast Table Chat" that was syndicated to more than 300 newspapers throughout the United States.  The Buzza greeting card company also licensed his verses, as we see in the example above.

Edgar A. Guest, via Wikimedia Commons

Guest also appeared on radio and TV.  He had a weekly show on NBC Radio from 1931 to 1942.  In 1951, “A Guest in Your Home” appeared on NBC television. 
Edgar A. Guest has been called “the poet of the people;" he considered himself “a newspaper man who wrote verses.” 

A cynic probably wonders why, or even if, Edgar A. Guest's simple poetry still resonates with people in the early 21st century.  Apparently, it does, and in ways Guest probably would have been delighted to see.  

I went on the YouTube website and found several videos based on "See It Through," one of Guest's most famous works. This young man recites the poem as he works out:

A number of student video projects have used "See It Through," several of them related to success in sports:

It's even the basis for a car commercial:

Here's a short but very interesting take, written by a scholar, on the importance of Edgar A. Guest:

The website has a biography of Edgar A. Guest:

Here's a recording of Sir Ben Kingsley reading "My Creed," by Edgar A. Guest:

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Boy Inventors' Radio Telephone

One of the great joys of going to estate sales is discovering old books I've never heard of, much less read.  Such was the case when I recently found a good used copy of The Boy Inventors' Radio Telephone.

I'm familiar with other juvenile fiction from the pre-World War I era -- titles like Bunny Brown and His Sister Sue, the Bobbsey Twins series (written by several authors under the pseudonym Laura Lee Hope), The Five Little Peppers,  Anne of Green Gables.

But I'd never heard of the Boy Inventors series before this.  

"The first spoken word ever exchanged between an airship...and land." 

The title page reads:







The Boy Inventors were the creation of Richard Bonner, about whom almost nothing is known.  

Scholarly research has been done on the "boy inventors" of literature from 1900 to 1930.

The Airship Boys. Two Young Inventors. Tom Swift. Jack Heaton, Wireless Operator.

Francis J. Molson explains that many works of juvenile fiction of the era featured young scientists, like Jack and Tom Chadwick, the "boy inventors."  Here's a passage from the book, describing their first communication from their Wondership:
Jack nodded, and Tom threw a lever which brought the generator of high frequency currents in contact with the motor by means of a friction fly-wheel. The alternator began to buzz and spark, crackling viciously.
A sort of metal helmet with two receivers attached to it, one on each side, lay handy at Jack's hand. In front of him was the transmitter joined to the metal box which contained the microphone, transformers and inductance tuning coil. Tuning in the aƫrial apparatus was effected by means of a small knob projecting through a slit in the metal box enclosing the delicate instruments including the detector. By working this knob the tuning block was moved up and down the coil till a proper "pitch" was obtained.
Jack experienced an odd thrill as he prepared to send the first spoken word ever exchanged between an airship in motion and a station on land. He and Tom had sent plenty of wireless messages while soaring through the ether, but somehow, the dot and dash system had not half the fascination and mystery of the possibility of exchanging coherent speech between land and air.
He placed his lips close to the receiver, and with his hand on the tuning knob sent forth a loud, clear hail:
"Hullo, High Towers!"
There was no answer for a few seconds while he patiently adjusted the tuning knob. But then came a faint buzz like the humming of a drowsy bee. Suddenly, sharp and distinct, as if his father was at his elbow, came Mr. Chadwick's voice in reply:
"This is the Wondership. Three thousand feet in the air," cried Jack.
"Congratulations, my boy. It's a success so far."
"What shall we do now?" asked Jack.
"I want you to fly in the direction of Rayburn, and try to keep in communication all the way."
"All right, dad," responded Jack, and altered the course of the Wondership.

The Wondership takes the Boy Inventors on an adventure that proves to be quite financially advantageous.  (I won't spoil the plot for you -- you'll have to read it yourself.  There's a link at the bottom of this page to a complete copy of their thrilling tale.)

The book recounts an exciting tale of these two young practitioners of the benefits of STEM education.  But did their success go to their heads?  Not at all:

But the boys were not made lazy by wealth and fame. To this very day, Jack and Tom, with Mr. Chadwick's aid, are devising many inventions calculated to benefit mankind. Possibly, at some future time, we shall hear something more about these, but for the present let us take our leave and say good-by.

The Federal Aviation Administration website notes:

The history of avionics is the history of the use of electronics 
in aviation. Both military and civil aviation requirements 
contributed to the development. The First World War [1914-1917] brought about an urgent need for communications. Voice communications from ground-to-air and from aircraft to aircraft were established. 

Other sources note that the British Royal Flying Corps was experimenting with air-to-ground communications as early as 1912.   AT&T developed the first air-to-ground radio transmitter in 1917, two years after the publication of The Boy Inventors' Radio Telephone.  So author Richard Bonner was definitely on top of his game.  

The whole idea of being the first to send a radio signal from an aircraft to the ground reminded me not a little of another "first" that happened only a few years ago:  The first live radio broadcast from a moving commercial aircraft, which happened in April 2006:

So the next time you're on an airplane and you pull out your laptop to use the Internet, remember the Boy Inventors, who blazed the trail for us all.


The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction has some information on author Richard Bonner:

The Boy Inventors' Radio Telephone is available as a free download, or you can read it online, at Project Gutenberg:

A list of all the books in The Boy Inventors series is available here:

Friday, November 28, 2014

More Cards from the Buzza Company of Minneapolis

Yesterday I shared a small greeting card dated Christmas 1914 -- a century ago -- with its colors and its message still strong.  It was produced by the Buzza Company of Minneapolis, Minnesota.  

At the same estate sale, I found other Buzza cards.  Looking at the designs, I can the company's style changing and growing over time.

Here's a birthday greeting printed on a single piece of cardstock -- it doesn't open or fold.

A birthday of gladness,
Returns by the score;
May this one be better
Than ever before.

The stamp on the lower right of the back of the card bears the year 1925, as well as the name of the Buzza building in Minneapolis: Craftacres.

Another little birthday card shows a simple design:

And a simple verse:

I don't know just how many years 
Have journeyed on with you so far, 
But I know thousands couldn't make 
You nicer than you are.

It has a completely different copyright mark, this time with an Arts and Crafts sort of design.

Speaking of an Arts and Crafts design, look at this gorgeous Christmas card by Buzza, which I found at the same estate sale:

No gift that I could give you 
No message old or new 
Could half express the love I hold 
Deep in my heart for you. 
Christmas thoughts are merry thoughts 
And Christmas cheer is fine, 
But all year long I think of you 
And love you, Sweetheart mine.

Buzza's design shifts radically in this more realistically-styled card, featuring Santa Claus and a pair of small children who apparently live in the Arctic region:

Asking Santa to
give you the best he has 
in his sack --

Here's a link to my previous blog post, which records some of the history of the Buzza Company:

Thursday, November 27, 2014

1914 Buzza Christmas Card

Thanksgiving dinner is over, so now we can turn our thoughts to Christmas.  This is the first in a series of blog posts on vintage Christmas cards that I've found at estate sales.

I often find vintage greeting cards at estate sales.  This one was part of a treasure trove of Christmas cards someone received, and saved, long ago.  Most of the cards in the lot were from the 1930s, but this one was older.

This little old Christmas card measures about 3 x 5 1/2 inches, and it looks like it might have been colored by hand.

 The inside of the card has the sentiment:

A Christmas Greeting, my dear Friend,
These good wishes to You I send: --
"Hope and faith to lead You
Strength and Love to speed You
And scores of Friends to need You,
And cherish You to the end."

It's signed with the initials J.C.U.

The sentiment takes on a poignant meaning when you look at the inscription:

Christmas 1914.  World War I had broken out in Europe.  America had not yet entered the fray, but that day would come all too soon.

I flipped the card over and looked at the back.  I'd never seen a mark like this on a greeting card before.

This folder
 is limited to 
an Edition of 
 of which this
 is no. 114  
C 296.

By the end of the 19th century, Americans were experiencing was was called the "commercialization of the calendar," where holidays were inspired and marketed by business.  Most greetings sent through the mail were on "penny postcards," which only cost one cent to mail.  The problem with postcards, though, is that the messages on them were not exactly private. 

In the early 20th century, several greeting card companies, including Rust Craft, a fledgling American Greetings, the A.M. Davis Company, the Gibson Company and the Buzza Company started producing Christmas cards with envelopes. (One of the benefits of sending a card inside an envelope was that you could write more than you could on a postcard, and the postman couldn't read what you'd written.)   

The Buzza Company was one of the early leaders in the American greeting card business.  Founded by George Buzza in 1907 in Minneapolis, it originally produced college posters.  In 1910, Buzza branched out into greeting cards, many of which, like my little Christmas card, were designed rather like posters.  At some point George Buzza, like his peers, figured out that sentiment drives greeting card sales.  The Buzza Company made more and different designs, hired  its sales had reached $2 million a year by 1927.  (That's over $27 million in 2014 dollars.)  

One Minneapolis history website I found described why Buzza cards were so popular.

Every major department store in the country bought Buzza greeting cards. They were known for high quality design, innovations in printing, hand-painted accents, and lavish embellishments. The Buzza Company hired leading artists, printing experts from Europe, and nationally known writers and humorists to capture sentiments ready-made for their customers. The charming, bright colored, Art Deco cards are highly collectible today.

George Buzza sold most of his interest in the company in 1929 and moved to Hollywood, California, where he and a partner, Ralph Cardozo, started another greeting card company called Buzza-Cardozo.

There were some other Buzza Christmas cards among the old greeting cards I found at that estate sale.  They show a wide variety of design styles and maker's marks.  I'll post photos of them next time.


In 2012, the Buzza Company Building at 1006 W. Lake Street in Minneapolis was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The draft of the nomination form for the National Register is a great source of information on the history of the company and the greeting card industry in the early 20th century.  This is a big document, full of a lot of details about the building; scroll down to page 15 (Section 8, Page 1) for the history of the Buzza Company.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thankful All the Time: A Reminder from Fannie, 1894

Ask someone what they're thankful for, on Thanksgiving Day, and you'll usually get the same kind of answers.

For health, most people over a certain age would say. For family. For friends. For food. For being together with family and/or friends. A roof over our heads. That we live in this country. For pets. And all those are good things to be thankful for.  

Back in 1894, or thereabouts, someone named Fannie Hammond received some friendship cards, which she tucked into a box that had held stationery, to save them.  I unearthed Fannie's box at a recent estate sale, and I've been looking at the cards; they reflect Fannie's faith in Someone bigger than she was.  Even though they're not traditional Thanksgiving cards, they made me think about Thanksgiving and the whole topic of Being Thankful.

The first card I spotted in the old empty stationery box has picture of flowers -- chrysanthemums, I think -- and a Scripture verse on it, about being content with what you have.

Now there's a challenge, with Black Friday and Cyber Monday staring us in the face.

It's helpful to remember that, in the New Testament, when the writer uses the word "for" to connect two thoughts, it means that they're about to explain what they just said.  So the idea is that if you belong to God, you don't really need to fret about what you do or don't have.  

(That shouldn't keep you from shopping for holiday gifts; it should help you remember not to get worked up about it.)

On the back of the card is printed the Twenty-Third Psalm, a veritable shopping list of things the author was thankful for:

The next card in the old box echoes the last verse of Psalm 23:

This card, with the old-fashioned roses, tulips and small blue flowers, is dated on the back 1894-- 120 years ago.  Fannie's teacher gave this card to her and signed it on the back.

Another card in the old box has another Scripture verse.

The verse in the ancient wisdom book of Ecclesiastes comes just after the famous lines that begin:

To everything there is a season,

A time for every purpose under heaven.

The final card in the old box shows another floral design -- a wreath of pink flowers framing a landscape.

Below the design is the first half of a verse from another Psalm, this time Psalm 9:1. I went on the Bible Gateway website to look up the rest of the verse:

I will praise You, O Lord, with my whole heart;

I will tell of all Your marvelous works.

It's easy to give thanks when there's a national holiday and its massive advertising campaign prodding you to do so. It's easy to feel grateful when things are going really well, and when you've somehow avoided disaster. But that's not enough.

Through Fannie's old cards, I am reminded that my thanks should be wholehearted, that I should strive to be thankful all the time.  

Another ancient verse from about 2,000 years ago says, "In everything, give thanks" (1 Thessalonians 5:18).  Notice it doesn't say "for" everything -- so many things in life are hard and unfair.  

I think "in everything" includes trying to find something good to think about when things are generally not going so well. 

It also includes taking notice of good things on average days, when I don't have massive marketing campaigns, personal euphoria or profound relief to remind me.

So on this average Thanksgiving Day, I am thankful that Fannie, whoever she was, saved her lovely old cards.  That someone else didn't throw them away when Fannie died. That I found the cards at the estate sale. That I can share them with you.

And thank you -- for reading.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thanksgiving Wishes, Arts and Crafts Style

It's quite common to see stacks of old greeting cards at estate sales. Often they've been used, but sometimes they are still in unsigned, unsent condition.

Most of the old greeting cards I see were produced by the biggest names in the American greeting card industry -- Hallmark and American Greetings for more contemporary cards, Buzza-Cardozo and Norcross for older ones.  

But this old Thanksgiving card, which was apparently never signed or mailed, caught me off guard.  It wasn't produced by any company I'd never heard of.

The card reads:


For beauty of the generous earth,
For Small successes , joy and mirth,
for large content in little wealth.
For books, for music, and for health,
For every thing thy mercy sends,
But best of all -- for friends.

I turned the card over to see the maker's imprint:  

Artcraft Shop

The Artcraft Shop in Minneapolis was associated with artist Mary Moulton Cheney (1871-1957).  Cheney was a Minneapolis artist best known for her graphical designs.  In addition to teaching for nearly 30 years at the Minneapolis School of Fine Arts, Cheney also ran her own print shop, Artcraft Shop: Sign of the Bay Tree and published books under the name Chemith Press.  Cheney was the first female president of the School of Fine Arts (now the Minneapolis College of Art and Design) and was deeply involved in the Arts and Crafts movement during the early 20th century.  

And indeed, the stylized F in the block print, the hand-painted colors, the overall design of the card reflect the American Arts and Crafts movement.

There were many, many other greeting cards at the same estate sale, dating from before World War I to about 1932. A lot of them were Christmas cards.  I'll share some of them with you on this blog, between now and Christmas itself.  Here are a couple of examples, just for fun!

Meanwhile, here are some links to more information on Mary Moulton Cheney:

And an essay on the American Arts and Crafts movement:

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Finding (Someone's) Art of Disney's Fantasia

This past week marked the anniversary of the debut in 1940 of Walt Disney's classic film Fantasia.  Remembering this reminds me of the two pieces of someone's original artwork I found at a Southern California estate sale.  The two pictures were tucked inside an original 1937 copy of the program for the premiere of Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

The two pieces of art show characters from the "Pastoral Symphony" section of Fantasia. And I have no idea who drew them.

Zeus and a Centaurette, who were stored inside the 1937 Snow White premiere program
when I liberated them from an estate sale earlier this year.

An artist friend told me that these two pieces look like "fan art" to her -- they don't seem to have the quality that a piece of concept art from the Disney Studios would have had.  

And yet the pieces of paper have holes punched at the bottom that seem similar to pieces of original Disney concept artwork I've seen online.  As well, the drawings don't exactly resemble the finished versions of the characters in the film, as much "fan" art would.  

The first sketch is mounted on black paper, about 8 x 8 inches, and it shows Zeus tossing a lightning bolt down from heaven.  

The Centaurette, about 10 x 11.5 inches, is on cream/white paper, blond with blue eyes.  And, as you no doubt immediately noticed, she's slightly more anatomically-correct than the Centaurettes in the film.  

The signature on the lower right seems to say "P. Bear" or something like that.

I have read that Disney employed many concept artists, who made drawings based on the ideas tossed out as animated features were being developed.  Their drawings don't always look much like the finished characters in the film. 

The only other clue in this mystery is the fact that a lot of the members of the audience at the premiere of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937, were Disney employees.  

Did one of them smuggle home some original concept art for Fantasia (which was released in 1940) and store it inside their rare copy of the Snow White program?
I realize that I may never know who drew these pictures.  Meanwhile, I welcome input from Disney historians on the subject.

Here's my previous blog post on the Snow White premiere program:

Gurley Thanksgiving Candles

I don't know why I bought these Thanksgiving novelty candles at an estate sale over the summer.  I remember they were only a few cents apiece.  Perhaps it was because I remember spending part of my allowance on one of these candles -- the little Pilgrim girl -- at our local Ben Franklin store when I was a kid.  I seem to recall she cost a dime.  I kept her for years.

These little candles are somewhat the worse for wear, for having been stored probably for decades. The tips of the boy's shoes, and the head of one of the turkeys, are missing (or perhaps they were bitten off by some youngster or small animal). 

But -- like so many of their fellows -- no one ever used them as candles.  They were meant to be decorative.

This afternoon, I went online and I looked up the name of the company that made these little candles. I must say, I've never before associated the words "cute" and "decorative" with a major international oil company.   Here's the story:

A man named Franklin Gurley started a company called W & F Manufacturing Company in Buffalo, NY in 1927.  W&F made candies, chocolates and wax novelties.  In 1939, Mr. Gurley was approached by the Socony-Vacuum Oil Company ("Socony" stood for Standard Oil Company of New York -- it was a predecessor of the company we now call ExxonMobil) looking for a way to use up the extra paraffin created during the oil refining process.  

So, Gurley started making small decorative candles under the name Tavern Novelty Candles.  In 1949, the company was renamed Gurley Novelty Company and it operated until the 1970s.  It was primarily known for making decorative candles like the Pilgrim girl and boy and their fowl friends.  Gurley also made Christmas, Easter and Halloween-themed little candles.

You can find the vintage versions of the candles at online auction sites -- and the venerable Vermont Country Store bought the Gurley molds a few years ago and is reissuing them.  Among others, they sell the Pilgrims and the Turkey, tall Turkey Tapers, cute Christmas Carolers, and Santa Tapers, as sets.

The Gurley Novelty Company's little candles have made it into the Buffalo Historical Society's archives.  Here's a link to their newsletter with an article on the history of Gurley:

You can go on Pinterest and see photographs of many of the candles produced by Tavern and Gurley.  It seems as though most people thought they were too cute to light:

Here's a link to the Vermont Country Store website: