Thursday, June 21, 2012

More Finds in the Local Archives

I regularly write a "column" in this blog called "More Finds at the Local Antique Shop." It usually discusses inferences I make about photos and ephemera that I find. I try to apply context to orphaned items. Today, I am going to share ephemera that has context and explain how the material fits into the collection I know.

Lawton Collection, Joyeux Noel
(Happy Christmas)
Shirley Historical Society
My last post discussed my work on the Lawton Collection in Shirley, Massachusetts. Within the collection, I found the two pieces of ephemera mentioned in this post. One outstanding feature of the Lawton Family Papers is a box of Christmas cards covering about a decade in the life of the family. The cards illustrate early twentieth century greeting card design and reflect the tastes of the times. Like today, cards were written by family, acquaintances, business associates, and long lost friends (maybe people one hadn't heard from since the previous Christmas.) I chose the card to the left as my sample for its beautiful color and unusual design. It seems more like an illustration for Little Bo Peep than a Christmas card, yet I find its simple illustration very appealing.

I found myself wondering how many people keep years worth of Christmas cards. I usually keep a year's worth. I review the previous year when I replace them with current ones when the holiday ends. Unlike birthday cards, I do not keep any old Christmas cards. I find them impersonal, even with long letters describing recent events in the lives of those I know; those letters about family that say the same thing to all its recipients. I am guilty of sending such correspondence too, but it strikes me as very ephemeral. I expect the recipient to read about what is happening in my life and then throw it away. 

As antique dealers, did the Lawtons treasure these items from a whole different perspective than I? For one, I wonder, did the Lawtons keep their ephemera because rather than weighing the materials for personal or historical value, they judged it on a monetary level?  Seeing a decade's worth of cards is certainly fascinating and when we are through reviewing the collection, I think we are likely to find it has historical merit for research purposes. Did the Lawtons recognize the value of keeping their correspondence in bulk? While I do value this card on its own, it is certainly much more interesting when seen alongside the others in the collection.

Lawton Collection,
Shirley Historical Society
The second item I am sharing is an invitation to the child of Frank and Anna Lawton. Shirley Lawton would have been about ten when she received it. A friend invited her to a party. I admire the friend's neat handwriting and the quaint image. Lately, my own child has been invited to parties via email or evites. As much as I love my digital correspondence, I think we've lost something in this iteration of human relations. The personality that shines in the above note brings me right into the context of Shirley's life. This is certainly not a card sent by "Harriet B"'s mother (as my email invites are.) I picture little girls in a simpler time with simpler non-themed parties. This particular piece of ephemera not only shows us Shirley's life context, but clearly shows how her time was different from our own.


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