Fairy tale postcards charm collectors

Once upon a time in a faraway kingdom, a beautiful princess was rescued by a heroic (and of course, handsome) prince with a little magical help, while an evil stepmother (witch, wizard or whatever) was suitably punished.

If I hadn’t visited this mystical land many times as a child, it’s unlikely I would have made a career of writing romance novels. In spite of decades of evidence to the contrary, part of me still believes in fairy tales and happy endings.

The essence of fairy tales is that they take place in an imaginary land, but the stories themselves are usually lacking in descriptive details. A castle is a castle. It comes with towers, a throne room and dungeons as required by the tale, but only the details necessary to the story are given.

Perhaps this is because fairy tales have been inherited by children who have little patience with wordiness. Originally, almost every culture known to man had its magical tales peopled with fairies, elves, witches, giants, talking animals and all manner of mythical creatures, not to mention heroes and heroines. fairytales PC 2 AT 3-26.jpgThey were heard and passed on by adults by word of mouth.

Not all fairy tale princesses were kind and worthy of love. In this scene by O. Herrfurth, the young prince’s gifts of a rose and a nightingale are spurned by a haughty princess, but be assured that he had his revenge. He posed as a swineherd and enticed her kisses with magical toys. Her father was so disgusted, he banished her from his castle. (A German postcard published by FRG.)

When the Brothers Grimm started gathering märchen, German tales, they couldn’t have predicted that this type of story would become a staple of children’s literature for many, many generations to come.

Fortunately, book publishers and artists created magical settings of their own to compliment fairy tales (which need not have fairies), adding greatly to the rich tradition. Collectors also benefit greatly from the visual portrayals, since artistic fairy tale scenes were reproduced on postcards beginning in the early 1900s.

A list of those who created fairy tale art includes many famous names: Walter Crane, George Cruikshank, Maxfield Parrish, Gustave Doré, Arthur Rackham and many others. Postcard collectors will also recognize these names: Mabel Lucie Attwell, Ivan Bilibine, Jessie Wilcox, Oskar Herrfurth, Margaret Tarrant.

Raphael Tuck & Sons published one of the earliest fairy tale series, attractive embossed cards embellished with gold. They have undivided backs, which unfortunately allowed a message on the front side only, a drawback in collecting the earliest used cards. The series numbers, 3471 ff, are printed on the picture side along the right edge, unlike later Tuck series numbered on the address side.

The examples in my collection were used in 1902. Around the same time, Tuck also used a lovely Sleeping Beauty scene on a Christmas card. O. Herrfurth was the artist on some particularly nice German series that tell a story in pictures. His postcards most commonly seen in this country are “The Swineherd,” by Hans Christian Andersen, “The Pied Piper of Hameln” (the Rattenfnger or rat exterminator in Hamelin), and “The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen” (a collection of tall tales), all of which I found for sale on eBay.fairytales PC 1  AT 3-26.jpg

“Little Snowwhite” basks in the attention of her handsome prince, attended by two dwarfs on this postcard published by Tuck, no. 3473, and mailed in 1902.

For collectors who don’t limit themselves to well-known artists, fairy tale themes show up both in story book series and on greetings. An artist named Kirchbach signed some attractive foreign cards for traditional favorites such as “Sleeping Beauty” and “The Princess and the Pea.”

In recent years, folklorists have examined fairy tales to explain ancient customs, and historians have tried to trace their origins. Psychologists try to explain underlying themes according to their discipline, but do we really want to know that magical tales were all about adolescents finding themselves?

Fairy tales are a rich heritage, first introduced in childhood and nurtured by astonishing art. A single postcard scene can open up this imaginary world. A collection can transport the viewer to a kingdom where good triumphs and the princess lives happily ever after with her hero.