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Celebrate New Year’s with Vintage Cards of Lucky Pigs and Drunken Butterflies

Celebrate the New Year with these 19th and early 20th-century postcards, featuring lucky pigs, pensive pansies, and menacing snowmen.

A Victorian New Year card (via Bolton Library)

Happy New Year! Have you sent your friends cards decorated with pigs for luck in the coming months? While the pop of champagne has been associated with New Year’s celebrations since the 19th century, much of the contemporaneous Victorian visual symbolism now appears rather strange.

“Happy New Year to You” (1908) (via Wikimedia)

The Pitt Rivers Museum at the University of Oxford notes that from the late 19th to the early 20th century, pigs were quite popular as good luck charms in France, England, Ireland, Germany, and Austria. So when postcards became ubiquitous in the late 19th century — helped along by the introduction of stamps that facilitated cheaper mailing as well as a burgeoning print industry in Europe and the United States — the pigs appeared on New Year greetings. As did clovers, horseshoes, and lucky mushrooms, as well as pansies to symbolize that the sender is thinking of the receiver. (The word “pansy” is derivative of the French word for a thought — “pensée” — as the flower petals look a bit like a face in thought.)

Victorian and turn-of-the-20th-century New Year cards also often featured symbols of rebirth, such as butterflies and hatching chicks, as well as winter imagery like snowmen. As collecting them with other ephemera in albums was a popular 19th-century pastime, quite a few survive. And as we’ve previously explored with Victorian Christmas cards (with their murdering frogs and dead birds), things could also get a bit strange as all the visual influences collided, including human faces on tipsy butterflies and pigs eating Christmas tree ornaments. Here are a few from library, museum, and other collections around the web. Cheers to digitization!

A Russian Empire New Year card (before 1917) (via Wikimedia)
“Godt Nytaar! (Happy New Year!),” illustrated by Andreas Bloch (1860–1917) (via National Library of Norway/Flickr)
A Victorian New Year card (via Nova Scotia Archives/Flickr)
“A happy New Year to you,” on a Victorian card that once won fifth prize in a design competition (via University of Glasgow Library/Flickr)
“Prosit Neujahr! (Happy New Year!)” (Berlin, 1904) (via Wikimedia)
Robins and a cat celebrating the holidays (1876) (via National Library of Ireland/Flickr)
“Godt Nytaar! (Happy New Year!)” (1880) (via National Library of Norway/Flickr)
“A Happy New Year” (1909) (via New York Public Library)
“Best New Year wishes” (Berlin, 1900–10) (via National Library New Zealand/Flickr)
“A Bright New Year” (1883) (via Library of Birmingham)
“I wish you a happy New Year” (1900) (via Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Literature, Toronto Public Library)
“A Happy New Year” (Raphael Tuck & Sons, 1870–1900) (via Boston Public Library)
“Godt Nytaar! (Happy New Year!)” (1889) (via National Library of Norway/Flickr)
A Victorian New Year card (via Nova Scotia Archives/Flickr)
Pigs on New Year’s cards (both via New York Public Library)
“Herzliche Neujahrsgruße! (Happy New Year!)” (via New York Public Library)
“A Happy New Year” (Raphael Tuck & Sons, 1909) (via Furman University Postcard Collections)
“Godt Nytaar! (Happy New Year!)” (1916) (via National Library of Norway/Flickr)
A vintage New Year’s postcard (via Dave/Flickr)
A Victorian New Year card (via Nova Scotia Archives/Flickr)
Victorian New Year cards from the 1880s (via Library of Birmingham)
A woman jumping her horse over a brook on a New Year postcard (via Wellcome Images/Wikimedia)
A Victorian New Year card (via Bolton Council)
“With the best wishes for the New Year” on a Victorian card (via University of Glasgow Library/Flickr)
“Godt Nytaar! (Happy New Year!),” illustrated by Andreas Bloch (1916) (via National Library of Norway/Flickr)
A kitten with a shoe full of flowers on a New Year card (1908) (McFaddin-Ward House Museum, via University of North Texas Libraries)
New Year card with glitter and cats (1900) (via Bettie La Barbe Postcard Collection, Charleston County Public Library)
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