Pomp and Circumstance: Historical Graduation Cards

The school year is winding down. Students across Chicago are studying and preparing to take final exams. Seniors are preparing for graduation. Many graduates will participate in long celebrated traditions like wearing black or school-color gowns and flat mortarboard caps at commencement ceremonies, then celebrating their academic achievement with friends and family.

If you walk through the card aisle this time of year, next to all the Father’s Day cards and standard birthday greetings, you’ll likely see a section of graduation cards. Graduation greetings and congratulations surely go back to the first days that students began earning diplomas. Once upon a time, cards received in and from Chicago might have been published by the P.F. Volland Company.

In 1908, the Volland Company opened at 58 E. Washington. The new publishing company launched a series of greeting cards, gift books, framable mottos and specialty envelopes, among numerous other kinds of stationery and printed goods.

The Volland Collection in the Special Collections and Preservation Division at Chicago Public Library includes tens of thousands of greeting cards for all occasions, from Valentine's Day to Halloween to Christmas.

The graduation cards in the collection span from the 1930s to the 1950s, and include congratulatory symbols like ships, globes, open gates and references to earning one’s “old sheepskin.”

Enjoy this selection of graduation cards from the Volland Company. Which one would you select for a special graduate you know?

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