Celebrate President’s Day in style with George Washington and vintage postcards

Does anyone celebrate President’s Day? There’s something so bland about the made-up holiday that it must pass most people without a flicker of interest.

A century ago, George Washington’s birthday was a red-letter date. He was born in Virginia on Feb. 22, 1732, and grew up pursuing his interests in western expansion and the military. He gained experience in the British army, participating in early skirmishes in what became the French and Indian War. In 1759, he settled down with his wife, Martha, to manage his lands at Mount Vernon and serve in the Virginia House of Burgesses. In 1775, he managed to get himself appointed commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. The rest is familiar history.

An impressive number of postcards were made and sold to celebrate his life and his birthday — so many that they’re still fairly easy to find. At a time when his portrait hung in most of the schoolrooms in the country, it’s not surprising that postcard publishers promoted and sold a great many Washington cards, possibly more than for the Fourth of July and Memorial Day combined, if their availability today is any indication.

James Lowe’s Standard Postcard Catalog (2nd ed. 1982) lists 42 different sets and series of Washington postcards, many of them published by Rafael Tuck and Sons. Although there’s a certain irony that a British firm was the leading publisher of Washington postcards, it’s not surprising. Tuck was the foremost international postcard publisher throughout the “Golden Age.” Today Tuck’s cards from the early 1900s are still among the most valuable and sought-after postcards.

The postmarks on Washington cards show that they were used to commemorate his birthday, not just for collectors of the day to tuck away in their albums.  Most were mailed on the 20th or 21st of February, recalling a time when mail moved fast enough to arrive on the 22nd.

Tuck’s postcards are especially nice to collect because they were issued in numbered sets, something collectors appreciate when trying to find complete runs. Those that show Washington in scenes from history are eye-catching, but there is one caution when buying them sight unseen. They weren’t always printed on the strongest card stock, so it’s important that they are in excellent condition.

Washington cards were made by a who’s who of important early publishers, including International Art, E. Nash and Illustrated Post Card. There aren’t a great many signed artists, the exceptions being Ellen H. Clapsaddle and R. Veenfleit. George Washington postcards are especially noteworthy for their patriotic themes and the honor they pay to our first president.

To quote Gen. Henry Lee of Virgian, whose quote is on one card, Washington was: “First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”

More from Antique Trader

Editor’s Pick

The Everything American Revolution Book
From the Boston Massacre to the Campaign at Yorktown—all you need to know about the birth of our nation

Everything American Revolution BookScrappy farmers. Aristocratic landowners. Eccentric geniuses. These were the rebels who took on the world’s greatest power—and won. From the rebellion against “taxation without representation” to the beginnings of American self-government, readers will learn how this unlikely group of colonists shaped a new nation. This book features all readers need to know about this exciting time: the beginnings of colonial unrest and rebellion; the drafting and signing of the Declaration of Independence; major battles, including Lexington and Concord, Trenton, Saratoga, Valley Forge, and Yorktown; daily life for soldiers and ordinary colonists on both sides of the war; and the birth of the United States. This easy-to-read book covers all the key players and major events—from King George III and George Washington to the Boston Tea Party and the launch of a new government. The interesting facts and vivid details inside will turn any history-phobe into an enthusiastic history buff!

Get your copy at an everyday low price only on Shop.Collect.com


Special discount prices on great books, digital downloads, price guides & reference books for every hobby

Warman’s Antiques & Collectibles 2011 Price Guide

Antique Trader Facebook PageMeet and share with other antiques collectors, dealers and auctioneers on Antique Trader’s Facebook page

Antique Trader Twitter ProfileGet special discounts and breaking news alerts on Antique Trader’s Twitter feed!

Browse (or place your own) FREE online classified ads

Sign up for your FREE AntiqueTrader.com email newsletters

For more trade news, auction reports, research and expert columnists, get a year of Antique Trader magazine for the special online price of just $24.98!

Antiques Auction Houses