Novelty Cards of People in Silk & Embroidery

by Liselotte Erlanger Glozer

(Published in Textiles magazine, 1996)

During the latter part of the l9th century the silk trade was in decline and manufacturers tried to devise new uses for silk.There was a craze for silk bookmarkers and by the time that passed the burgeoning postcard industry was looking for ever more novelties with which to wet the public's appetite for cards. It seemed natural that the two industries -- silk and postcard manufacturing -- would form an interesting marriage.


Although the earliest silk cards appeared in about l898 in Britain, it was not until about l903 that the textile card industry got into full swing. The bulk of these cards were colored lithographs, a technique in which German publishers excelled, and were imported from Germany. They are highly embossed and on the parts where silk is applied (glued on) it mimics folds in the clothing. I have never had the courage to dismantle one of these cards to see whether the color scheme underneath the silk matches that of the applique.

Some of the earliest cards in my collection are undivided "ethnic cards," i.e. people dressed in folk costumes. No publisher is given, but on the reverse the word "Postcard" in l4 languages (including Cyrillic) shows that they were manufactured to cover the European market.. There is a series of Alsatian costumes, with women's skirts and hats and men's jackets overlaid with silk, and a series of alpine outfits, with little poems; but how many cards were in each series is unknown. Another ethnic series is one of Dutch children These are divided , post -l906 cards, and although they show no publisher, they have stock numbers starting with K l65. Some of them appeared with the title "Costumes Flamandes." Usually either the girls' skirts, weskits or aprons, or the boys' pants and caps are overlaid with silk. Visually, the cards form a very attractive group. .

These cards are not "sets" in the sense of, for instance, the well-known Langsdorf "State Girls," but rather publishers' series. One (no publisher given but consecutive stock numbers identify them as a series), is "Birthday Greetings." Cards show respectively, a girl in a pink silk dress and hat showing off an enormous doll; on another card, a girl in purple silk skirt, bonnet in hand, is sitting on a fence.

A charming" New Years Greetings" series published, judging by the back, by Langsdorf, depicts a woman in a full silk lilac colored dress and embossed fur stole. A little angel in a green silk tunic is helping her to put on skates; the series continues with the angel teaching the woman (now in blue silk) to skate, and then to the woman (in magenta) skating with the angel being pulled by holding on to her skirt. I have seen cards of the same series without the silk overlay and a different color scheme. On another Langsdorf series, this one of Easter cards, a silk dressed angel (in pink) holds an enormous Easter egg over a sleeping child.

An unidentified publisher came out with a silk series of dogs and children, a sure winner in a competitive market. A girl in red silk hands a bone to a St. Bernard; a boy in a silk cape (forshadowing Superman) holds a hunting dog by a leash, another in a tartan cap walks with a Scottish deerhound, etc.

Spooning was another topic that lent itself to being all dressed in silk; there are spooning couples on fences, underneath trees, and in the parlor, the women usually in silk blouses or skirts. A spooning couple on a boat shows the man dressed in silk while the woman merely wears a polka dotted, heavily embossed blouse. As the years went by, not only State Girls and angels appeared in silk, but also the Pope and even cowgirls.There is a whole series of the latter from United Art Publishing; the girls are riding about in silk blouses or skirts with gun in holster, rifle slung over shoulder, etc.

Colors of silks most frequently used were a heavy magenta red and cerulean blue. Pink and violet were a bit rarer, and the soft lilac of the "skating lady" as well as a nutmeg-gold used in some of the Dutch childrens' cards are uncommon.

Another unusual silk card is the stuffed portrait bust of Ludwig van Beethoven, which mimics a cameo in style.


Another type of textile card, much rarer then the above, is the real photograph, hand tinted and embellished with either embroidery or clothing, made from swatches of contemporary textiles . These cards are "layered": The front, embellished with either textile or embroidery has a postcard back affixed to it. Most of these were made in Spain.

Although some of my embroidered cards were sent through the mail, none has a clearly readable postmark, making them difficult to date. Judging from the style of dress, I would place the lady with the flower basket at around l908. The flowers and her shawl are embroidered in yellow, green and white; the beautiful fringed belt is in green. The publisher's logo is indecipherable. This card is probably hand-embroidered, whereas three more intricate cards from a German publisher (the logo reads "Lemos") are machine embroidered. One shows a woman full front, in a lilac-purplish lace dress of contemporary style; the shawl is white lace.

More elaborate still is the girl which I refer to as "Edwardian Sentimentality." White lace around her shoulder and yellow silk embroidery on the "dress" makes her an outstanding example of the period just before WWl. An Italian card, probably from the twenties, shows a coy woman accepting some yellow marguerites from a man. The card's back is damaged and the machine embroidery is clearly visible.

Even later are the Spanish cards from a series with a woman's name identifying each. "Maria Esparro" is literally covered with embroidery, leaving only face, neck and hands exposed. The colors are vivid red, blue, pink, green, and yellow; especially stunning is the bright green, fringed cap. In contrast, "Merina" is somewhat understated in a yellow fringed shawl with a red center; her blouse, barely visible, is dotted with pink and green.

But the most striking of my Spanish cards is the one I call "The Flapper." The lovely tinted photograph of her face and curls, with its come-on smile, are topped by a hat that has been embroidered along the lower margin. The attached rose is stitched in red; the crown of the hat and the shoulder straps of her garment are greenish blue, the latter with an added border of white; and the brim of the hat is outlined with gold.

Postcard-textile combinations are not limited to the styles described here. Fairly modern cards, from Spain, Mexico and Sweden show "ethnic" types of various provinces of those countries. But the embroidery is done in rayon and the cards can't compare to the old ones. Although sufficiently collected, textile cards have not topped out as far as pricing is concerned and are fine specimens of desirable collectibles for those interested in the history of cards and costume.


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