Sending Christmas postal cards

Published 10:00 am Saturday, December 24, 2011


Graphic by Kathy Johnson/Albert Lea Tribune

Editor’s note: This is the second of two parts.


Themes for Christmas postal cards a century ago featured many topics, and one folks seemed to like was based on children. Proof of this can be verified in the archives of the Freeborn County Historical Museum Library.

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Back in the era when the postage for one of these colorful Christmas cards was just a penny, the language used for most seasonal messages was English. However, for a few in the museum’s collection the wording was in Norwegian.

Several of the postal cards featuring children gave a hint as to the types of toys they desired as Christmas presents and what may have been popular 10 or so decades ago. A check with one of the Tribune’s pre-Christmas issues may help to furnish details into this phase of life for the younger generation.

On Friday, Dec. 15, 1911, the Tribune printed a 26-page special Christmas edition which contained large ads for three then very prominent department stores. And a century ago, the city’s focal point for Christmas shopping was mainly based on the corner of South Broadway avenue and Main Street.

The largest of the three stores was Skinner, Chamberlain & Co. (present site of Brick Furniture). This department store had the motto of, “We can meet any price and any purse.”

Their ad had the following suggestions for presents to be given to young boys: bows and arrows, drums, guns, horns, tops, wagons, velocipedes (a type of early bicycle), sleds, roller skates, dynamobiles, air ships, books and stories of adventures, whips, trains of cars, automobiles, fire engine, games for boys, mechanical toys, rocking horses and marathon races.

For young girls, the store’s ad listed these choices: sewing boxes, dolls, doll houses, doll furniture, dishes, rocking chairs, doll tables, writing desks, bead working outfits, doll sewing machines, doll lamps, doll trunks, doll go-carts and sewing baskets.

The list of Christmas present suggestions for infants had the following: rattle box, celluloid ring, large rubber ball, large ball with pictures, rubber dolls, rubber animals, blocks and horns.

Across Broadway at the Main Street corner in the building now designated as St. Paul Clothing House was Nelson Bros. Department Store a century ago. Their ad depicted Santa Claus flying through the air, but not on a sled pulled by reindeer. Instead, Santa was riding on an aeroplane or flying machine piloted by a young bear.

The Nelson ad featured full jointed bisque (porcelain) dolls, drums priced from 50 cents to $2.50, and cast iron toy trains and horse-drawn fire wagons.

Across Main Street from the Nelson store in what’s still known as the Wedge-Jones building (and present site of Midwest Antiques) was Lembke Dry Goods Co., “The Store That Satisfies.” Their pre-Christmas ad in 1911 clearly indicated this store had an extensive toyland.

The Lembke ad featured cast iron toys, riding (rocking) horses, games, dolls, kiddy tool boxes and snare drums. For this last item the ad said these noise makers, costing 50 cents, 75 cents and a dollar each will “let your boy beat the drum for his country and be happy and patriotic.”


Cards courtesy Freeborn County Historical Museum


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