I wish to inform everyone that, following an extended illness, Abby Csaplar passed away on December 14. Abby was a dear friend, who, along with her husband, Will, was passionate about collecting. As many of you know, together, the Csaplar’s put together the definitive waterfowl stamp exhibit, A License and Stamp System for Waterfowl Conservation in the 20th Century U.S.
Although Abby was a very humble and low-key person, I believe she took considerable pride in the fact that the exhibit has been so well received and, in the process, she helped bring much needed attention and credibility to a hobby she cared deeply about. For this, I am very grateful. Abby was a huge champion and supporter of many hobbies, not just philately, and will be greatly missed.
I will write more about Abby and her association with our waterfowl stamp hobby after the holidays. As it is almost Christmas, I think Abby would like for me to share with you another of her favorite collecting areas – Santa Claus picture postcards. You see, it was long-standing tradition for the Csaplars to display selections from their Santa postcard collection during the holidays. Now, in Abby’s name, I have decided to create a virtual Santa display for people around the world to enjoy.
The Csaplars and I shared an interest in collecting postcards for over 30 years and we spent many, many hours driving up and down our respective coasts – to auctions; shows and flea markets large and small (including Brimfield) – assembling our collections. It was, as they say, a labor of love.
We each collected many different subjects on postcards but the common denominator was our interest in vintage cards featuring Santa Claus. It is escapism at its best; for these cards have the ability to let you experience a joyous time in a simpler era.
A while back, the Csaplar’s downsized and allowed me to purchase their extensive Santa postcard collection, intact, and merge it with my own. Numbering close to 10,000 cards, the combined collection is, perhaps, the largest of it’s kind (with the majority collected by Abby and Will). It is from our combined collection that I will select cards for this gallery.
Abby enjoyed postcards depicting Santa Claus in a wide variety of activities and, along with Will, were particularly interested in acquiring cards showing Santa using as many different modes of transportation as possible. You will be surprised to learn how many there are! My intention is to add new cards to this gallery every year. Over time, I will include many of her transportation cards.
Initially, I have selected four groups – often referred to as sets – of cards to feature in the gallery. One (the earliest) to provide some context; one which is my favorite; one which was her favorite and, then, finish with one which we both cherished.
Pioneer Postal Cards
The first picture postcards were issued in Europe in the 1860s. On May 12, 1873, the U.S. government started issuing postal cards. A facsimile stamp was incorporated into the upper right corner of the card. Although there was much interest on the part of the public to produce private cards, this was effectively suppressed through strict government regulations which put private makers at a tremendous disadvantage. In short, government postal cards could be mailed for half the postage required to send private cards.
Companies could purchase the government postals and then have a design printed on the reverse. This was often employed as a convenient form of advertising. Santa images from the pioneer period in the U.S. (1873-1898) are few and far between today. The earliest recorded Santa images were printed on the reverse of government postals in 1873 by Steven S. Mapes of New York, NY. Santa, along with a couple of his reindeer, were used to advertise his shop on Maiden Lane, the Santa Claus Depot.
There are three recorded examples of the Mapes card in collections today. One was featured in Robert A Siegel’s Rarities of the World auction which took place during the summer of 2014. The card was a beautiful example, printed in red ink and cancelled “Westfield N.J. Nov. 3, 1873”. I was happy to be the successful bidder (see Figure 1).
One of my fondest memories is meeting Abby and Will in York, Pennsylvania, every November to attend Mary Martin’s York international Postcard Expo. Mary’s show attracts dealers and collectors from around the world and is, by far, the best postcard show in U.S. For 15 consecutive years (up until two years ago), I met the Csaplars at the show.
We looked through dealer’s cards during the day and then went out to dinner after the show closed. At dinner, we shared our new acquisitions and this time was one of the highlights of our day. Our favorite spot was the Round the Clock Diner and favorite menu choice was the crab cakes – yum!
Sometimes, my son, Eric, came along; sometimes my sister, Carole (also a Santa postcard collector) and sometimes we met other friends at the show. It was always fun and very productive – as many of the dealers saved their best cards to bring to York. After dinner, we would go back to the hotel and talk about stamps.
In the weeks leading up to the show, I would often call other collectors and dealers (or they would call me) and we would “line things up”. On one such phone call I was speaking with Bruce Nelson, from Maine. Bruce is a long time collector and dealer who is considered the authority on pioneer postal cards.
I informed Bruce I had won the Mapes card in the Siegel Rarities sale. After first congratulating me, he told me that he also had a Mapes card – printed in green. This was very exciting and he promised to bring it to the show for me to look at. When the show rolled around, Bruce showed me to the card. It was in very nice condition and I immediately thought it would be great to unite the two cards in one collection – preferably mine (see Figure 2).
I respectfully asked Bruce if he would consider parting with the card and his reaction was to laugh – not very promising. That night I was thinking how much I would love to have that green card to go with the red one. Then I started thinking about how much I might be willing to spend to make it happen. The next day, I made him an offer that was considerably more than I had just paid for the red one (at this point we believed their were two red examples but only one in green).
While I managed to get his attention, he told me he did not need the money and wanted to keep it as part of his pioneer postal card collection. That night over dinner, I discussed the situation with Abby and Will. As they had done for me so many times in the past, they offered to help me out. They very generously authorized me to offer Bruce nearly twice as much the next day and, if he accepted, they would trade me for a waterfowl stamp for their upcoming exhibit.
It was difficult for me to sleep that night, as I did not know how Bruce would react. I did not wish to offend him. The next day I pulled him aside and softly made him the offer. His head was down as I spoke. When I finished, he look up and stared into my eyes for a good 30 seconds. Then he told me he wanted me to have the card! I thanked him and then rushed over to tell Will and Abby. They were very happy for me. What makes this memory even more special is that 2014 would prove to be one of Abby’s last trips to York.
When I got home and compared the cards – I was startled to discover the designs were different. While the central (Santa) motif was the same, the wording across the top and bottom of the cards was different (see Figures 1 and 2). The second card states, “Take this Greenback and go to…”, almost as if it was an advertising token. Pretty cool.
My Favorite Set
One of the fun things about collecting picture postcards – especially from a philatelist’s point of view – is that you are often able to find the same image used on many similar cards that are in some way(s) different. In Philately, we might refer to these as different types.
My favorite set of Santa Claus postcards was privately printed in Germany after 1898. Once the regulations were changed, allowing non-government cards to be sent at half the letter (postage) rate – private companies around the world began producing and marketing picture postcards. By far and away, the highest quality cards were printed in Germany. From there, they were exported to venders in countries throughout the world.
These cards often featured spectacular chromolithography and helped to stimulated not only a huge market for postcards – but a tremendous postcard collecting fad that included all classes of citizens in nearly every country, worldwide. The term deltiologist was subsequently coined to describe a postcard collector (the same way philatelist refers to a stamp collector).
It became quite a thing for people to purchase postcards locally and exchange them with friends, relatives and acquaintances in other countries. This fad lasted for nearly 20 years, up until WW2, when the German postcard factories were turned into arms and munition factories and, then, subsequently bombed and destroyed by the allies.
The period from 1898 to 1917 is considered the Golden Age for picture postcards – both in terms of production and popularity. The worldwide demand for postcards stimulated the German companies to print cards in many different ways (types). These are fun to collect today. My favorite set consists of four different images. The standard method of printing was flat chromolithography (see Figure 3).
Perhaps the most popular and widespread deviation from the standard was to take a flat chromolithographed card and emboss it. A two dimensional metal plate with contours matching the design was impressed into the card from the reverse. This produced a subtle element of depth that helped to draw the viewer in (see Figure 4).
One of the most popular types of postcards with collectors today are know as “Hold-to-Light” (HTL). These were produced by printing the image on layered, die-cut paper. A die was used to cut out tiny areas or windows in the top (surface) layers where key design elements were to be printed. This process allowed the viewer to hold the card to a strong light and see all the windows explode with bright colors. A very cool effect that was relatively expensive to produce. These are also known as die-cut hold-to-light postcards (see Figure 5).
Another postcard novelty was the addition of facial hair and beards – often made from real human hair (probably would not be allowed today)! This element of realism was especially effective when it was applied to Santa Claus postcards and was very popular with children (see Figure 6).
Another novelty was the “Squeaker” postcard. Once again, a relatively expensive process whereby a small diaphragm was affixed between two pieces of paper, with the top bearing the lithographed design. When the children (or adults) held the card between their fingers and pressed, the card squeaked. In addition to being expensive to produce, these cards were inherently fragile and few have survived the past 100 years of wear and tear. Fewer yet still work properly and these cards sell for a premium (see Figure 7).
Finally, we have another novelty postcard type that involves moving parts. These are aptly referred to as “Mechanicals”. Mechanical cards were produced in relatively small numbers and can be difficult for collectors to acquire today. Once again, only a small number of mechanical cards extant still work and these are in high demand by collectors. In the mechanical card shown below, if the wheel is turned – the image changes (see Figure 8).
Aside from these major types, it is often possible to find a number of related varieties that were printed using your favorite images(s). This often involved including combining design elements from two or more different cards to produce one new one. I have included some of these in the Gallery.
Abby’s Favorite Set
As previously mentioned, Abby and Will enjoyed seeking out Santa postcards that showed Santa using as many different forms of transportation as possible. They put together an exhibit of these cards and showed it around Worcester for many years during the holiday season.
These included Santa with a dog and sleigh; with a polar bear; with geese; with a pig, with a fish, with a truck; riding an elephant; with a horse and sleigh; pulled by a turkey; on skis with rabbits on skis; on a sled being pulled by children; on skies; on a toboggan; pushing a wheel barrow; riding a bicycle; driving a car; using a motor boat, riding a rocket; flying an airplane, arriving by parachute and riding a motorcycle!
Although Abby was fascinated by these transportation cards, by far and away her favorite Santa set was produced by a venerable German postcard company exclusively for the American market. These colorful cards feature Uncle Sam as Santa Claus. As the cards were a limited production item, they are among the rarer cards in the hobby today and highly sought by advanced collectors.
With the exception of the real hair and mechanical types, the Uncle Sam Santas may be found in all of the same types as described for the set above. As with my favorite set, Abby’s also consists of four different images. The first has Santa carrying a basket of toys and a decorated tree up some snow-covered steps (see Figure 9).
The second has Santa standing outside of the children’s room, placing toys on their window ledge (see Figure 10).
The third has Santa knocking on the door, while the children peer from behind. (see Figure 11).
The final card in the set has Santa inside the children’s house, decorating their Christmas tree with toys (see Figure 12).
There is another high quality set of four German Christmas postcards that features Santa images on three of the cards. Abby and I both loved them. The cards from this set are very elusive, in large part because people don’t want to part with them. However, I believe each of the four images was produced in flat; embossed; die-cut hold-to-light and squeaker versions.
Two of the cards feature young girls and two feature boys. The two girls are simply adorable and the cards are very much prized by collectors. I have chosen to highlight the set of hold-to-light cards, two of which were formerly in the collection of Abby and Will, to end this memorial gallery.
The first card shows a cute young barefoot girl darning her sock which is hung from the mantle, presumably on Christmas Eve. In the upper left corner of the card we can see Santa with his bag of toys observing her. It is safe to say, she is on the “nice” list and will wake up happy on Christmas morning. The card is a masterpiece of picture postcard art, produced by the finest German craftsmen and is highly coveted (see Figure 13).
The next card is the only card not to include a Santa image and features a boy putting a lump of coal into one of the stockings hanging from the mantle. Definitely naughty – hence Santa is nowhere to be found (see Figure 14).
The next card features a cute young girl kissing an illustration of Santa in a book. This is arguably the most desirable Santa image in the postcard hobby. The image evokes the joy of Christmas on the part of children everywhere. Her affection for Santa is almost palpable. The viewer’s sensation of pleasure is heightened when the card is held to the light and windows light up (see Figure 15).
The final card in the set shows a young boy laying on the floor, next to his tree on Christmas morning. He is happy and content, clutching a gun that he received, we assume, as a gift from Santa. Santa Claus, himself, appears in the form of an ornament on the beautifully-decorated tree and looks down approvingly. This is the most colorful card in the set and includes the most die-cut windows. When held to the light – it is a joy to behold (see Figure 16).
I hope you have enjoyed this post. I knew Abby very well. She loved Santa postcards and I know she would have appreciated me sharing these images with you. To see all of the cards in the gallery, click here.
If you click on a thumbnail the image will expand in size. From there, you can navigate through the galleries using the forward and back arrows located at the right and left sides of your screen; you may also choose to click on the slide show symbol located at the lower right of the image (it looks like a triangle facing right). Once the slide show is running, the symbol turns into a pause button.
You may also choose to go full screen by clicking the symbol located at the upper left of the image (looks like arrows extending in four different directions). To get back to the thumbs, click the “x” symbol at the upper right of the image or click on the page outside of the image.
To Abby, you were one of the best people we (my entire family) ever met and we will really miss you. You truly helped to make the world a better place. Rest in peace. To everyone else, one of my other good friends recently told me this year will always be remembered for it highs and lows. That may very well be true. However, for the next week or so – at least – we at Waterfowl Stamps and More hope that you also may experience peace and are able to enjoy this very special time of the year. Happy Holidays to all!