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Ephemera proves devotion between family members

Sometimes, for no other reason than to say “I’m thinking of you,” people send a card. Print Editor Karen Knapstein discusses how postcards fit the bill in the past, and how these vintage greetings can become special gifts today.

By Karen Knapstein

We’ve all heard – and perhaps used – the phrase: “You can’t pick your family.” Good or bad, from an

Loved Ones postcard

The Loved Ones At Home, unused, divided back, embossed, applied glitter, card back glued to front. (All photos courtesy of Karen Knapstein)

early age we begin learning social behaviors from our family members; after all, when we are very young, they comprise the majority of our world. There’s even a meme that shows up on my Facebook feed every so often that says, “Cousins are our first friends,” which illustrates the significant role family plays on who we become.

It’s no wonder we all have (or had) “favorite” relatives. I’m not going to call out grandparents as favored relatives because, after all, isn’t it pretty much a given that grandparents dote on grandchildren, making them shoe-ins as favorites? Even though the grandmother who lived long enough for me to get to know has been gone since 1992, I still get misty-eyed when I think of her. Indeed, when I think of my mother-in-law, a wonderful woman who passed away far too young at the age of 63, who my own daughter never had the chance to meet, it pains my heart because I know they would have adored each other.

But I digress … I’ll wipe my eyes, re-focus my train of thought and move along to the subject at hand: Postcards. Specifically, family-themed postcards.

Since aunts and uncles don’t see their nieces and nephews day in and day out like parents do, they can take the liberty of making every child feel like their favorite. Postcard series such as the “To My Dear” series (N 701, publisher unknown) help make each recipient feel special, since each points out the special relationship between the sender and the receiver.

When I look at the cards I have in the “To My Dear” series, I honestly feel compelled to use them in either a framed photo collage to hang on a wall, or to use as scrapbooking illustrations. It just seems natural to help identify photos with these brightly illustrated cards with the relationships spelled out in flowers; they are graphic enough to complement photos, but not striking enough to overpower the photographs.

In fact, it’s tempting to reproduce the “To Darling Baby” card by scanning and printing more cards on

Dear Uncle postcard

Card 668, Copyright 1911 – By W.I.R – Boston, unused, divided back: To My dear Uncle / I wish you health / and wealth / May both increase / And every day / bring more / Prosperity and peace.

cardstock to use as gift cards in the future.

On the back of this postally used “To My Dear Brother” card, which was mailed in Iowa in 1908, the simple message reads: “I suppose you are better by this time. S.M.” Is it my imagination, or does that sound like a passive-aggressive message between siblings to you, too?

Also shown is a “To My dear Uncle” card (marked 668, Copyright 1911 – By – W.I.R Boston). This card is slightly embossed and even more vibrantly illustrated with pink and red roses and twisting vines covered with deep green leaves, but unused. The message is as lovely as the design: I wish you health / and wealth / May both increase / And every day / bring more / Prosperity and peace. I found many cards from both of the above-mentioned series available at for $5 to $15 apiece.

The final card for discussion doesn’t fit the “family” topic because of the design (although the “Grandma’s Birthday” greeting isn’t too much of a stretch), but it belongs because of the personalized message on the back. The sender posted the card from Kennebunk, Maine, to South Paris, Maine, in October 1922. The message says:

“Dear Guy, If convenient to you and mother permits we plan to call at your house Sat. Oct 7. And if it won’t be too much will stay to suppose there will be 4 grown ups and 2 children.
In haste, Fan.” And, written upside-down, before the greeting: “Please excuse card as it is all I have handy.”

I can’t help but wonder if the card made it in time, before the family of six dropped in on Guy and Mother, forcing an unexpected accommodation of six. Who else but family can you count on putting up with a “drop-in” such as this?

All of these relationship greetings (even the Grandma’s Birthday since it’s really nicely illustrated) would complement a family photo display. However, if you wish to preserve the condition of your postcards, consider making a color copy to use, while storing your original cards safely away. I have

Grandma's Birthday

Grandma’s Birthday (1105G, Owen Card Pub. Co, Elmira, N.Y.): I send again to / Grandma / My wishes / Most sincere / For pleasure on her / Birthday / And joy throughout / The year.

no delusions about the condition and minimal value of my own cards, so I have no reservations about using the cards themselves in my own projects. … unless I find a “To My Sweet Fluffy Ruffles” greeting postcard, which, due to how uncomfortable that particular greeting makes me, will never see the light of day under my roof.

Communications with relatives and friends have changed drastically over the last century. Personally, in the last decade I’ve gone from mailing loved ones letters to sending brief texts and instant messages. Instead of sending funny or sentimental greeting cards and postcards, I share memes on social media that convey what I’m thinking or feeling. These are effective ways of staying in touch, but they don’t result in lasting mementos – the cards themselves – that sending actual handwritten messages do.

I leave you with something to ponder: Electronic messages are far more ephemeral than ephemera! I truly hope you enjoy your postcards and your families. It’s even better when you can enjoy them together!

In addition to selling “To My Dear” and other family themed postcards for approximately $5 to $15 apiece, sells high resolution files of public domain images for $10 so you can print your own stock – or even print new postcards with old graphics as you wish.

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