Saturday, February 13, 2016

Norma and the Norcross Kittens

With Valentine's Day upon us this weekend, it's time to bring out some more mid-century paper ephemera in celebration.

I've written before about the massive amount of Cat Stuff I saw at the estate sale last year of a woman named Norma. Norma saved her paper collection in large scrapbooks; I brought home a few of them. Many of the cards had dates as well as signatures. Most were from the late 1940s to about 1965.

It's not uncommon for people (okay, women) to save greeting cards from their childhood. Perhaps her mother stuck the cards carefully into a baby book, and the girl continued the tradition when she got older with additional scrapbooks to hold special cards from family and friends.

Norma's early cards, obviously intended to be sent to a child, were signed "Love, Mother and Daddy." 

Others came from her sister Margie and Margie's friend Helen.  

Looking at the sheer volume of dozens and dozens of kitty-themed Valentines in Norma's collection dated between the 1940s and the 1960s, I realized that either a) Norma had a very long childhood, or b) her friends and family knew that she just liked to receive cute kitten cards.

I looked up Norma's obituary; she had been a teacher and then a school administrator all her adult life. So b) above must have been the answer: the grown-up Norma still collected cat cards.

Good for Norma. Her hobby (obsession?) allows us to see examples of mid-century art, and to remember a day when a holiday was marked not with a quick text message or e-mail, but a greeting card, thoughtfully selected, tucked into an envelope, addressed and mailed, then carefully saved by the recipient.

Many of the kitty cards Norma and her sister Margie saved were by the Norcross company. A quick search of the website shows that Norcross did a lot of advertising in the mid-20th century, to promote their various card lines.

And Norcross' kitten cards were among their most popular. 

The kittens also appeared on gift wrapping paper.


At least three of the Norcross kitten designs had names. That's Snowball, above.  

This is Topaz.

And the third named kitten, Inky, was featured in many Norcross newspaper ads.

Don't laugh derisively at the Norcross Kittens. The archives of the Norcross company, including far more cards than Norma and Margie ever amassed, are in no less a place than the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.  The Smithsonian provides a bit of company history:

Arthur D. Norcross founded the Norcross Greeting Card Company in New York City in the nineteen twenties. From the start Norcross cards had a "look" which contributed to their selling success although, through the years, the company commanded only a small share of the greeting card market. In 1974 the company relocated to West Chester and Exton, Pennsylvania, where in 1981 Norcross and the Rust Craft Greeting Card Company merged to form divisions of a parent company.

The Smithsonian also provides us with some context:

According to Norcross Company officials in 1978, this collection represents "not only a history of the development of the greeting card industry but also a history of social trends in the United States" and gives "an indication of the quality and technology of the [printing] industry from 1924 through 1978." 

Here are more some of Norma's cat-themed Valentines, by Norcross, Rust Craft, Hallmark and other makers. Enjoy. 

And do give someone a Valentine's Day card this year. Preferably a paper one.


You can read the history of the Norcross company in the Smithsonian Institution's PDF, here:

The blog Vintage Recycling provides more information on Inky the Norcross Kitten: