A guest post by Stephen Grant
Gentle readers, we are now somewhat familiar with Meriden Gravure Co. postcards. Perhaps we had never paid attention to them before. In this post we will look at five Meriden postcards which contain interesting information handwritten on them, but which do not bear a stamp, postmark, or destination.
I believe this is the first postcard I’ve shared with you from the Meriden Gravure Co. which is not of the Folger Library, but of one of the subjects found in its collections.1 Our friend Horydczak is the photographer. “THIS SIDE FOR ADDRESS” is guidance not respected in this case. One sees “11/8–,” which means that a postcard dealer is indicating to a potential buyer that he or she may purchase 11 different Meriden Gravure Co. cards of the Folger Shakespeare Library for $8. It’s not a bad price per card.
This is a familiar sight for any of the thousands of patrons who have seen performances at the Folger. The two pillars on stage hold up the theatre, often creating a challenge for the actors to move around. The balcony serves in many performances. When the Folger was inaugurated on April 23, 1932, musicians from the American Society of Ancient Instruments serenaded the theatre audience from the balcony with an elegant pavane and galliard by William Byrd, and airs from Thomas Morley and Orlando Gibbons.
What a touching penned notation on the back of the postcard: “Visited with Mother – 8/14/65 BS”! I love to think of two generations visiting the Folger theatre. In the year 1965 there was ONLY ONE play put on at the Folger. Let me share the story. On Nov. 28, 1965, a group from the Amherst Masquers performed extracts from Twelfth Night in a comic evening performance billed as “The Gulling of Malvolio.” Members of the government and diplomatic community were invited to the black-tie event, organized by the Library in connection with an Amherst College trustees meeting. Several minutes into the program, the actors wondered why they were getting few laughs. Then they heard a tremendous guffaw from the Nigerian ambassador, resplendent in his colorful robes, sitting in the first row. The hall suddenly came to life with laughter for the rest of the evening. Playing Malvolio, my Amherst classmate Brett Prentiss was in the wings, in his nightshirt and nightcap. After he lit a candle, preparing to walk on stage, he felt a rough tap on the shoulder.
“What are you doing with that candle?” demanded the fire marshal. “Well, I’m expected on stage with it right now.” “If you go on, I will ban any further performances of the play.” “Oh, that’s all right, Sir. It’s a one-night stand.”
In 1965 the Folger Theater was not yet certified by the District of Columbia fire authorities. But a milestone had been reached: a candle had been lit on the Folger stage.
This is an unfamiliar sight for any of the thousands of patrons who have seen performances at the Folger. You are standing on the stage looking out on an empty theatre. Today there is one central aisle, not two. In each case there were 16 seats per row. Actors can scan the various galleries and levels. Note that I acquired a second postcard which captured the same visit to the Folger with Mother as in the second postcard: “Visited with Mother – 8/14/65 BS.”
This is the vantage point from which the majority of picture postcard photos of the Folger are taken, the northwest. It’s another photograph by Horydczak. This card was inserted in an envelope and sent on to its destination. “Just a card from the Folger Library. Hope you are both well, ‘Hoagsie.’” How thoughtful of Hoagsie to think of his two correspondents and the state of their health. In his careful diagonal script he artfully and minimally fills in the two sections of the card dedicated to correspondence and address.
This is the first postcard I’ve shared with you from the Meriden Gravure Co. which is not of the Folger Library, but of Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon. We happen upon a serial postcard where we are deprived of the first part of the message:
“. . . me a great deal of pleasure which yet lingers in my mind. Our trip to Washington was a great success. We found Randolph and family very well, and we enjoyed our visit in their home thoroughly. These cards I selected in the Shakespeare Library, and I thought they would appeal to you. It was my first inside view of the building, and it has been built ten years.”
Often correspondents who send serial messages spread out over several postcards number them to keep track; not here.
The correspondent learns during the visit that the Folger was built ten years earlier. Thanks to this comment, we can calculate that the visit took place in 1942.
“I did not know we had anything in this country as perfect as this library. It comforted me from our House of Representatives which I found awful. It made me long with you to belong once again to England, to be governed by men of brains & distinction, & ideals & not cheap jacks. I really deeply miss you. It was a lovely two months, Gody. Here’s to next Sept-October! What I did with my licenses heaven only knows or how soon I’ll be arrested. At least I have Isabel now to bail me out. She sends you her best love. The city looks feels & sounds terribly. I will write from N.Y. Please give Belle my love & Chas. Jones & Mrs. Bull nice message for me Much love to you Gody. W.L”
Unfortunately, W.L did not write a date on this card. Nor was the writer’s gender divulged, was it? Can we deduce that both sender and receiver were Brits who immigrated to the U.S.?
William Rittase, the photographer for this postcard, was an engineer before becoming a professional photographer. He specialized in industrial subjects (railroads, factories, smokestacks). He lived in Philadelphia and worked closely with the Meriden Gravure Co. in Connecticut. The writer is clearly captivated by the “perfect” Folger, after a disappointing visit to the Capitol. Fervent longing for “brains and destination” in the old country of England. Lots of love to go around from the lively, effervescent, opinionated W.L.
Stephen H. Grant is a retired Foreign Service officer turned writer. He is the author of, among other things, several books about postcards, and Collecting Shakespeare: The Story of Henry and Emily Folger. He can be found on the web at https://www.stephenhgrant.com and on Twitter at @shgauthor.