Thanksgiving Greetings: Historical Cards from Chicago

Growing up, my favorite holiday was always Thanksgiving. Most of my family’s Turkey Day traditions were the same as many other Americans—visiting family, eating too much turkey and pie, napping and watching a little football. A few of our traditions may have been more unique to us—teasing Grandma about always bringing two cans of cranberry sauce for the feast when she was the only one who liked it, and following dinner with a cut-throat game of Trivial Pursuit.

One tradition I don’t ever remember participating in is exchanging Thanksgiving cards. Unlike New Year’s, Valentine’s, Mother’s Day or Christmas, I never thought of Thanksgiving as a card-giving holiday. However, beginning in the late 1800s, mailing Thanksgiving greeting cards became a mainstay in many homes for decades. If you had family in Chicago, they might have sent you a card designed by the P.F. Volland Company.  

In 1908, the Volland Company opened at 58 E. Washington. The 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 including a variety of Thanksgiving-themed cards. Well-wishers could choose from more generic turkeys and "over the river and through the woods" style cards, or specific ones for secret pals, Thanksgiving birthdays and anniversaries, or even cards for friends or family who were ill.

Over the years, my family and our traditions have changed. Maybe this year I'll revive an old tradition and send my own Thanksgiving greetings.

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