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Birthdays, Happy Faculties, and Dental Fillings

Katheryn McMahon Newton album, post 2, cards 2 & 3

I selected a birth announcement postcard to open this blog. Coincidentally, the first two postcards in this album are for Katheryn’s birthday. Which one? Unknown, as of yet, but we do know the day: 15 January. So I’m posting this blog entry a little less than two weeks before the date.

Both cards are from Fred Newton, who dated and posted them on the 15th of 1908 in full expectation that they would arrive that same day. This was quite possible in the early 20th century, when the mail was sometimes delivered several times a day in cities. Perhaps not in all neighborhoods (racism and classism are not new inventions), but the texts imply expectation of same day delivery for where Katheryn lived.

He also, based on the cards, sent her a box and a letter–but, of course, neither of these do I have for analysis.

Here are the two images:

The two cards are very similar in style and presentation. Nevertheless, subtle differences (different edging, background) suggest they came from separate series, if not separate printers. The flowers and leaves and the printed text are raised above the surface of the cards. There’s relatively evidence of embossing on the backs of the cards; they’re made of two layers adhered to each other. Printed in Germany, neither card features a firm or printer name. An expert in postcard images might be able to identify the maker, but I cannot.

Fred helpfully dated both fronts (as well as the backs) and interacted with one of the printed sentiments to indicate he wished her happiness “everafter.” He’s not the first or last to add text to postcard images (distinct from merely writing on the front, something people did far more often particularly on postcards with earlier dates). We’ll see this again.

2 cent stamp. Postmark Chicago, Ill., 3pm 15 Jan. 1908. to Miss Katherine McMahon 2621 Shields Ave. City. “Jan 15th '08 Dearie Have just come from dentist Had a couple of neat little fillings looked after + a little polishing + ect. Did you receive box + letter I suppose you will get away from house before these arrive but they will be at house when you get home in the eve. F.N.”
Fred Newton to Katheryn McMahon, 15 January 1908, card a, reverse

This is the first card in the album of the two–and rather surprised me with the combination of topics. In case you can’t easily read, here’s the message:

“Dearie Have just come from dentist Had a couple of neat little fillings looked after + a little polishing + ect. Did you receive box + letter I suppose you will get away from house before these arrive but they will be at house when you get home in the eve. F.N.”

Fred Newton to Katheryn McMahon, 15 January 1908

A curious start for a birthday card! Historians of health may appreciate the reference to the dental visit and “neat little fillings.” The mention does give us a slightly narrower window for when Fred wrote this–after visiting the dentist but before 3pm, given the postmark. He may have visited the dentist fairly early in the day, since he allows for the possibility that the postcard might arrive before she leaves the house even though the letter and box probably won’t arrive until later.

2 cent stamp. Postmark Chicago, Ill, 3pm 15 Jan. 1908. to Miss Katharynne McMahon #2621 Shields Ave. City. Message “Jan. 15th 1908 Dear: I have for those I care for the happy faculty of remembering for those I don't care for the more happy faculty of forgetting so you know best where you stand dont you lovey With Love Fred”
Fred Newton to Katheryn McMahon, 15 January 1908, card b, reverse

A note on names. Fred is inconsistent in how he spells Katheryn’s name. I’ve chosen to use “Katheryn” as the default because it’s the most common among the variants.

Interestingly, the postmark on the second card bears the same information as the previous–3pm, 15 January, Chicago, Illinois. It’s possible it was sent a different year, but I doubt it. Look closely at the partially illegible year on this one (can’t find it? it’s not within the circle but outside across the bottom corner of the stamp). The last digit is hard to read but more closely resembles an 8 than anything else. We know Katheryn married Fred at some point in 1908, so this can’t be post-marriage (they weren’t in Chicago anymore). The card itself definitely dates from mid-late 1900s (postal laws decreeing the layout of postcards changed over the decade).

Therefore, twice over the course of the day Fred thought of Katheryn and decided to drop her a card. This card is rather more emotive than the other with not one but two endearments plus a slightly convoluted way of letting Katheryn know she’s the kind he remembers versus forgets.

“Dear: I have for those I care for the happy faculty of remembering for those I don’t care for the more happy faculty of forgetting so you know best where you stand dont you lovey With Love Fred”

Fred Newton to Katheryn McMahon, 15 January 1908

Based on all the above, anyone care to speculate as to the order in which Fred wrote and posted these cards?

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