In the earliest years of the 20th century no holiday inspired a larger number or a more beguiling display of colorful, historic and patriotic postcards than did Memorial Day. Dozens of publishers, foreign and domestic, marketed hundreds of varieties to satisfy the huge demand by the public for them during the month of May every year. Today, both postcard and Americana collectors look upon these as wonderful, nostalgic relics of a fascinating era long gone.
Of the many sets of Decoration Day cards printed and marketed, Series Number 150 of ten by New York City’s Sam Gabriel Co. (also called Gabriel & Sons) has long been considered to be among the most beautiful.
The illustrations depict aged veterans remembering their Civil War days and comrades, the public honoring survivors, and the fallen heroes being paid tribute. One remarkable card in this set pays homage to the soldiers of all our wars. It depicts militiamen, regular army, volunteers – and one sailor – representing the many armed, conflicts our nation had fought, from the Revolutionary War to the Spanish-American War of 1898.
Published most likely in 1907 or 1908, the set is considered to be the unsigned work of Frances Brundage. Throughout it there runs a sense of solemness and reverence, and yet also a feeling of joy in being an American.
Sam Gabriel Co. was not a giant firm in the industry, but it had endurance. As a trade name “Gabriel” has survived to present times.
Samuel Gabriel began his company in 1907 on New York’s Fifth Avenue. He previously had been manager of the New York City office of London-based Raphael Tuck & Sons. At this time Tuck was the largest postcard and paper novelty publisher in the world.
A short time after founding his firm, Sam’s two sons, Arthur and Bertraml joined him. And for nearly 30 years, the company remained a family-operated business.
Early in the 1930s the business was sold to The American Colortype Co., which had been doing much of Gabriel’s printing. Colortype itself was a prolific producer of postcards for the nation’s expositions, world’s fairs and various special events, as well as military and other types. It changed ownership often. Eventually, in the 1950s, the corporation divested itself of Gabriel Co.
Samuel’s grandson, Richard, attempted unsuccessfully to purchase back the old family business at the time. The original company went on to operate as Gabriel Industries and become involved with game boards, electronic toys, electric trains and other modern playthings. It disappeared altogether in the 1990s.
Besides souvenir greeting postcards, Gabriel & Sons was involved with the entire paper novelty field – paper dolls included. A major manufacturer of such materials during the first three decades of the 20th century, Gabriel continued making them until the late 1950s.
Gabriel’s fame with modern collectors comes mainly from its production of 19 sets of 10 postcards each, featuring the artwork of freelance artist Frances Brundage. Part of this outpouring was Memorial Day Series No. 150.
Brundage was one of the country’s busiest and most successful commercial artists of her era. Collectors today eagerly seek her many postcards and the numerous children’s books she illustrated in a career than spanned a half-century from the 1880s until her death in 1937. Among these were coloring books, children’s story books, paper toys and dolls, and such classic books as special editions of Pinocchio and Robinson Crusoe.
Samuel Gabriel first made contact with Brundage during the time he was Tuck’s branch manager in this country. She did work for the English publisher, including some Memorial Day sets, i.e. Series No. 173 and Series No. 179. Sam undoubtedly used his Tuck contacts to gather reputable and qualified artisans for his new firm.
Specializing in greeting cards, Gabriel & Sons marketed postcards for many holidays, including the patriotics. Sometime between 1910 and 1912 they entered into agreements with two British publishers, The Philco Publishing Co. and Misch, to print and distribute their postcards in this country.
While the ten Memorial Day postcards designed by Frances Brundage for Gabriel are not all that difficult to find, most collectors do experience frustration in finding all ten. Completing the set is an accomplishment not enjoyed by everyone.
But when all are found and put together, a vision of America at the beginning of the 20th century emerges. This was an America in which hundreds of thousands of Civil War veterans of the Union Army were still living and active in politics and community affairs.
The great war of The Southern Rebellion was not only very much remembered, but it influenced every aspect of everyday life. The Civil War, and honoring the veterans who remained, was uppermost in the thoughts of not only school children but their parents. In fact, in many households, a father or grandfather who had fought at Gettysburg or Vicksburg was still a member of the family. The local G.A.R. post continued to function as an important business, social and political center.
Brundage’s Memorial Day postcard set for Gabriel, placed into circulation a century ago, helps us to remember the way it used to be.