Collecting Kiddie Cards

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Before there was e-mail - let alone text messaging - children would actually send each other greeting cards. This would involve going to the store with mom, picking out the child-appropriate specimen, taking it home and signing it in pencil or ink, addressing and licking the envelope, and applying (after another little lick) a three-cent (or more depending on the date) stamp, and taking it to the mailbox. These cards - charming and colorful - have a lot of appeal for collectors today.

Valentines were the No. 1 favorite. They were often bought by the boxful, so that one could be sent to every classmate, with such verses as ''Tell me 'feather' or not it's worth my time to hang around,'' while others were directed to ''A fine big nephew'' or ''A sweet little girl'' by doting relatives. Other holidays provided card-sending and receiving opportunities as well for children, most notably Christmas, with an emphasis on Rudolph and other reindeer, Christmas stockings hung on fireplaces and gifts under the tree, and also Easter, with bunnies, eggs and baskets galore.

Most juvenile cards, like most adult cards, were unsigned, but a small percentage bear the artist's name. One of these went by the single name Angela, about whom little is known, aside from the fact that she was a prolific supplier to the Fravessi LaMont company during the 1940s. Another was Mabel Lucie Attwell, a popular British illustrator whose images were not only found on greeting and postcards and in children's books, but on kiddie china and fabrics, while Charlot Byj created a family of characters named Shaggy, Raggy Muffin and M'Lady O'Hair who graced numerous greeting cards (and later became Goebel figurines).

Greeting cards changed in style over the years, reflecting (though not too directly) general aesthetic changes and levels of sophistication. As pointed out by Linda McPherson (see below), in the 1930s the color palette was basically soft and muted. In the following two decades, graphics became much more vibrant, with an emphasis on bright, primary colors, and in the 1960s the designs became even bolder and more contemporary in flavor. And the range of reasons for commemoration expanded as well. No longer limited to birthdays and Valentine's day, cards came to accommodate Mother's and Father's Day, there were get well cards to and from children and a variety of other pretexts for communication.

Collecting children's greeting cards is an affordable avocation, with most examples ranging from $3 to $8 in price. There are many ways to form a specialized collection as well. Some obvious focal points are on a specific holiday, a single artist or by subject matter, such as age-numbered birthday cards, schoolroom scenes, cowboys and Indians, fairy tales and nursery rhymes (The American Greeting Card Company produced a boxed set of 16 ''Little Folks Nursery Rhyme'' cards, each with a four-page insert giving the song or story), advertising characters such as the Campbell's Kids, comic strip characters like Mandrake the Magician, Blondie and Dagwood, and Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters, or cards featuring dogs, cats or other animals.

A particular favorite are doll-themed cards, especially Hallmark Dolls from the Land of Make Believe made in the late 1940s and valued at up to $45 each.


''Collecting Vintage Children's Greeting Cards'' by Linda McPherson (Collector Books) is chockfull of representative examples, mostly from the 1930s to the 1960s, all illustrated and given a price value. It starts off with baby congratulations cards, then moves on to birthday cards, cards featuring Popeye, Disney and other cartoon characters, farm-, cowboy-, doll-, fairy tale- and nursery-themed cards, and holiday cards from Valentine's Day to Christmas. A useful section identifies the various known artists whose signatures can be found on the cards.

Linda Rosenkrantz has edited Auction magazine and authored 18 books, including ''Cool Names for Babies'' and ''The Baby Name Bible'' (St. Martin's Press; She cannot answer letters personally.
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