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.
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!
Allison C. Meier is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Oklahoma, she has been covering visual culture and overlooked history for print and online media since 2006. She moonlights...
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