L’Shana Tova! Turn-of-the-Century New Year’s Cards from the Collection of Yeshiva University Museum

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The commercial greeting card industry grew rapidly around the turn of the last century in Europe after the introduction of the picture postcard along with technical innovations that permitted cheaper mass production of color prints. Pre-printed cards became commonplace for holidays like Valentine’s Day, Christmas, and New Year’s.

This holiday custom was quickly adapted by German Jews, who began sending cards bearing good wishes for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and the practice soon spread to Jews throughout the continent and the United States, where the mass immigration of Jews from Eastern Europe boosted card production. The Yeshiva University Museum boasts a wide selection of Rosh Hashanah cards from this period, produced for consumers on both sides of the Atlantic.

IMAGE 1. Scrap: Woman buying New Year cards, c. 1900. Collection of Yeshiva University Museum.

The cards were affordable and could be purchased from stationers or street vendors, as depicted in this “scrap” [image 1] showing a woman examining a selection of Rosh Hashanah greetings. (Scraps were die-cut paper images often collected by children or adults and incorporated into greeting cards, albums, or stationery, much like the stickers of today.)

IMAGES 2-3. Rosh Hashanah Greeting Cards, c. 1900. Printed in Germany. Collection of Yeshiva University Museum.

Many cards, even those designed for an English-speaking public, were printed in Germany, where artisans had perfected the craft of color printing, often re-using images created for other, non-Jewish occasions, as in these late Victorian examples [images 2-5]. The most elaborate were pop-up and foldout cards.

IMAGES 4-5. Rosh Hashanah Greeting Cards, c. 1900. Printed in Germany. Collection of Yeshiva University Museum.

Late Victorian consumers enjoyed visually interesting or surprising imagery, often featuring animals [image 6] or fantasy creatures. Pansies were particularly favored for their anthropomorphic qualities [image 7].

IMAGES 6-7. Rosh Hashanah Greeting Cards, c. 1900. Printed in Germany. Collection of Yeshiva University Museum.

Early 20th century postcards from the Williamsburg Art Company in Brooklyn often depicted technological innovations, such as the airplane [image 8] or the telephone [image 9], the latest way to send holiday wishes.

IMAGES 8-9. Rosh Hashanah Postcards, early 20th century. Williamsburg Art Company. Printed in Germany. Collection of Yeshiva University Museum.

Other postcards from the Williamsburg Art Company displayed the idealized interior of a Jewish home, with short Yiddish verses added [image 10]. In one card [image 11], a man can be seen passing a Rosh Hashanah greeting through a window. (How meta!)

IMAGES 10-11. Rosh Hashanah Postcards, early 20th century. Williamsburg Art Company. Printed in Germany. Collection of Yeshiva University Museum.

The Hebrew Publishing Company in New York, a rival to the Williamsburg Art Company, was known for elaborate pop-up cards featuring synagogue interiors [image 13] or biblical scenes [image 14].

IMAGES 12-13. Rosh Hashanah Greeting Cards, c. 1900. Hebrew Publishing Company. Printed in Germany. Collection of Yeshiva University Museum.

Dating from a decade of widespread immigration, a card titled “A Good Year Ship Ticket” [image 14] from the Hebrew Publishing Company was designed to appeal to recent or soon-to-be immigrants, depicting a train and a factory on either side of the Statue of Liberty and featuring the Hebrew text of the Traveler’s Prayer.

IMAGE 14. Rosh Hashanah Greeting Card, c. 1910-20. Hebrew Publishing Company. Printed in Germany. Collection of Yeshiva University Museum.

These examples are particularly poignant in our own era, in which technical innovations including email and social media have made such paper cards nearly obsolete.

Selections from the materials discussed above are on display in the Lillian Goldman Reading Room at the Center for Jewish History through the end of September 2023.


Lauren Gilbert
Director of Public Services
Center for Jewish History

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