The home of the Cartophilic Society of Great Britain

Happy Thanksgiving Day

Happy Thanksgiving Day

Thanksgiving Day is not really celebrated so much in the United Kingdom, but many of our members are in America, and we would like to take this opportunity to say that though they are far away in mileage, we would very much like to thank them for being part of our Society. And we do try to include something for all our members, near and far. Also, many of us have collector friends in America so this may act as a little reminder to send a quick e-card to wish them well. Especially in these times.

The first question you may have is what is Thanksgiving? Well imagine this, you sail from a Country that you do not like, and after a long and perilous sea voyage you glimpse sight of land far in the horizon. You do not know if you will be turned away or welcomed, but you sail, or row on. And sometimes you are lucky. If so, your first act is, or ought to be, to say thanks, to the people who have run forward to greet you in the hope that they are friendly, or just to nobody in particular. This story is still sadly too relevant today, but, in the case of Thanksgiving, it remembers a group of pilgrims who had sailed away from persecution, and forged a new life in America.

Picture

Then, the following year, in 1621, yes, that far back in time, the first ever organised Thanksgiving took place, according to legend, and this was simply a series of meals shared by the settlers and the Native Americans, who had found that working together solved more problems and got the harvest in far quicker than fighting each other.

It is almost certain that this was not a turkey based dinner. It’s much more likely that the accompaniments we use today around our turkey formed that early meal in entirety, the corn, the beans, squash, and yams. The first three of these were always grown together on the same plot by the Native Americans, and the practise is being revived as it has benefits to all the plants. You can read more about that at https://phys.org/news/2020-11-sisterscorn-beans-squashto-native-american.html

Early sweet corn was actually called “Indian Corn”, and you can see a typical plant on John Player`s “Useful Plants and Fruit” (1902) https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/701/32610234065_c448aff199_b.jpg
I think it is card no.24, can anyone out there confirm this? The beans had multiple uses, they could be eaten young, in the manner of pea shoots, or allowed to grow and produce the beans inside the pods. Squash was actually the oldest cultivated food in North America, though they looked more like what we call gourds; they too had another use, as they could be dried and used to make music, with the seeds rattling inside the shell like maracas. I have found an interesting site which shows several cards with people who have vegetable bodies, most of these were original fertiliser trading cards, and it is fun, as well as being the only cards I have found featuring beans and squash. Indian corn is there too as a Native American Chief. The web address is https://clickamericana.com/media/vintage-maps-illustrations/people-as-vegetables-odd-old-trade-cards-from-the-1800s-showing-men-women-literally-made-from-veggies

By 1890, however, when Duke issued this card, from a set of “Holidays”, the turkey had become the feast.

Picture

It even says on the back “We must not fail to state a hearty dinner of roast-turkey and cranberry sauce, etc., is necessary to all those who would properly celebrate the day.” I am glad to say that more recently, thankfully, many of us are choosing to celebrate “turkey-free Thanksgivings”, and with the quality and variety in modern vegan and vegetarian meals why not! But still today, if you went out and asked people in the street what food represents Thanksgiving to them, the number one answer would be turkey.

Here are two cards that show turkeys in the way I like them, out in a field scratching about and enjoying their lives.

Picture

The top card is by Fry’s Chocolates, “Fowls, Pigeons and Dogs” (1908) card no.8, and it tells us that turkeys were “introduced into Europe in the 16th century from North America”, that the two English areas that are celebrated for breeding them are Cambridge and Norfolk (the latter is still definitely true, not so sure about Cambridge?), and that the young birds do not like getting wet. The lower card, from Faulkner`s “Our Pets” 2nd series of 25 (1906) card no.24, also mentions “…heavy wet soil being fatal”.

Both these cards show the typical turkey with a kind of skin beard. However our final “turkey” card is very curious.

Picture

He is much earlier, issued in 1896, by W.D. & H.O. Wills, and this is from an untitled and un-numbered set which was given the name of Animals and Birds in Fancy Costume, the cards being untitled and un-numbered. This one is catalogued as “Turkey, wearing silk hat, smoking a cigar”, and he is a dapper chap with his spats on, blowing his smoke rings in the air, but look at his face, nothing dangles. If I had to pick a bird, I would have to say this was instead a peacock; or perhaps the artist did not have a turkey to hand, and so took his model as a peacock, believing all birds to be virtually the same, and just browned the tail and trimmed it somewhat. And what is he balancing that top hat on, if not the comb of a peacock?

Another accompaniment is cranberry sauce. You might think it impossible to find a card of a cranberry, but we have! It appears in Allen and Ginter`s “Fruits” (1891) and you can view one, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, at https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/407803 – if you would like to spend some time admiring the whole set, that too is possible, at https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search#!?q=Allen%20%26%20Ginter%20fruits&perPage=20&offset=0&pageSize=0&sortBy=Relevance&sortOrder=asc&searchField=All

These days, Thanksgiving has been seemingly overtaken by commercialism and by Black Friday, though the term is not a new one, it dates, in connection with shopping, from the 1950s. Some say it means the day when the store is guaranteed to go from the red to the black (as in accounting when moneys out are written in red and moneys in are written in black). But the term itself has a darker, even older, history of financial crash.

Sadly recent adverts seem to have abandoned even the word of Thanksgiving in their ads and just talk of Black Friday alone. With this event there is less giving of thanks, and more taking advantage of bargains, being first in line, or elbowing your way past as the doors open. Some people even used to sleep out overnight in a long line around the stores. This may not be happening this year.

This year the bulk of business will probably be done on Cyber Monday, which is simply more of the same bargain hunting, but online.

Anyway, we thank you all for reading, and we hope you enjoyed your brief trip into a less commercialised past.

And may we give our thanks, to all our overseas members, for your continued support….

Latest News