Best Wishes for Xmas, (signed) James Joyce

The early weeks of December often bring a welcome variety to one’s mailbox: Christmas cards.  These envelopes, a nice respite from the usual junk mail and bills, reflect a long-held tradition of exchanging postal pleasantries at Christmastime.  The Weeks family, who built Salisbury House in the 1920s, kept this custom as well.  Our collections here at the museum contain a few samples of the Weekses’ own Christmas cards, and other cards and holiday greetings penned by well-known artists and writers of the twentieth century.

The exchange of Christmas cards was a practice first established in the mid-1800s.  A British businessman, Sir Henry Cole, is typically credited with producing the first commercial holiday card in 1843.  One of the Cole originals sold at auction in 2001 for over £22,000.

800px-FirstchristmascardSir Henry Cole’s Christmas Card, c. 1843

By the turn of the twentieth century, this December ritual had taken hold in Europe and the United States.  Indeed, a young Carl Weeks had his own Christmas cards printed around this time.  The card pictured below is undated, but the fact that the text includes only Carl’s name – and not Edith, whom he married in 1907 – suggests the piece was printed sometime around 1900 (though, as we will see, Carl did not uniformly include Edith’s name on the family Christmas card even after their marriage).

Just Carl undated

After the completion of Salisbury House in 1928, the family home often illustrated the Weekses’ Christmas cards.

Color CEW undated

CEW BW Xmas late 1930s_1940s

The Weeks boys also appeared in the annual Christmas card from time to time.  A handwritten date on the back of the card pictured below indicates that it was sent “around 1938.”  This is curious, given the inscription: “Holiday Greetings from the Three Bachelors of Salisbury House.”

First of all, the only unmarried Weeks man around 1938 was Lafe (the youngest son, standing in the image below).  William was married in 1935.  Carl, of course, was married to Edith.  Perhaps “Three Bachelors” was meant as a joke…but one wonders if Edith or Margaret (William’s wife) found it particularly funny!

Bachelors Reverse says ca 1938

In addition to sending out holiday cards, the Weekses also received them from a variety of friends and acquaintances.  Joseph Stella, a prolific Italian-American artist of the twentieth century, maintained a long relationship with Carl and Edith.  Correspondence over the years between the Weekses and the Stellas often included a Christmas greeting.

 More broadly, though, Carl and Edith were important patrons of Stella’s work.  Stella inscribed a 1926 photograph of himself in the process of painting The Apotheosis of the Roseone of his major works, with thanks to the Weeks family for supporting his artistic endeavors.  The Rose now hangs in Salisbury House.

Stella combined

The Weekses and Stella remained in touch.  From Paris in 1931, Stella penned the following letter:

Stella 1931 note

Paris – Dec. 14 – 1931

Dear Mr. Weeks,

For Christmas I send to you and to Mrs. Weeks my best wishes.

Cordially,

Joseph Stella

Another holiday greeting, addressed to Carl at his office, came from the writer Maurine Whipple in 1942.   Extant correspondence between Whipple and Weeks was quite extensive, and suggested a unique relationship that was reflected in her 1942 Christmas card.

Whipple 1942

Salt Lake City

Dec. 17, ‘42

Dear Bro in the Gospel:

Just a word of cheer and Season’s Greeting before I go back to my corner of the Lord’s vineyard.  Indeed I am blessed to have a corner to go back to! Since the invasion of the gentiles into our City of Saints the weather has turned so foul that truly I think the Lord is pouring out His wrath.  At any rate, I have had four wisdom teeth out and am completely recovered from last fall’s accident and am now ready to work fifteen hours a day for the Arizona Strip, of which you are slated to receive the first autographed copy! (If I hear from you someday, that is.  I am worried – Satan is abroad!)

Faithfully,

Sister Whipple

The year prior to this Christmas missive, Whipple’s The Giant Joshua, a novel about the Mormon religion, was published to widespread popular and critical acclaim.  This holiday letter from Whipple to Weeks took place at a time in which she was increasingly well-known on the national stage.

Additionally, the historical backdrop of the early 1940s is apparent within this exchange.  December 17, 1942:  the United States had been engaged in World War II for almost exactly one year.  The envelope that landed on Weeks’ desk advertised for war bonds and stamps:

Whipple 3 env

Yet another singular Christmas card arrived at Salisbury House in December 1948.  Mailed to the Weekses from Philip Duschnes, a prominent New York bookseller, the envelope included an astonishing supplement.  A leaf from a fifteenth-century manuscript, intricately illuminated on vellum, was enclosed in a paper mat.

Duschenes 1948

An inscription inside the card provided additional identifying information:

Dechenes xmas 2

Philip Duschnes became well-known during his career as a bookseller for offering high-quality pieces and also for the practice of selling single leaves from significant works.   Weeks, a devoted bibliophile, was clearly a good customer.

Duschnes often collaborated with Otto Ege, a dean at the Cleveland School of Art and lecturer at (Case) Western Reserve University in Cleveland.  One of their joint efforts, titled Original Leaves from Famous Books: Nine Centures, 1122 A.D. – 1923 A.D. remains in the Salisbury House collection today.  The collection, one of fifty made available for purchase, went on the market in 1949.  Leaves from the “famous books” were placed in a paper mat and included a brief description penned by Ege.

Leaves.1

This leaf came from a fourteenth-century manuscript of Aristotle’s Ethics, detailed below by Ege.

Original leaves 4 infor

As Ege notes, a secular writer likely penned this 1365 manuscript.  Compared to the leaf from the Book of Hours included in Duschnes’ Christmas card above, marked differences appear in the production of the manuscripts that suggest the secular versus the religious origins of each.

As amazing as the Duschnes, Whipple, and Stella pieces are, however, there is yet another object in the Salisbury House collections that takes the cool quotient up a notch.  The piece initially appears to be a fun, vintage-y Christmas postcard:

Joyce 1

 The back of the postcard reveals just how awesome this piece is:

Joyce 2

Your eyes do not deceive you.  Yes, this is a Christmas card signed by James Joyce and Nora [Barnacle] Joyce.

The massive geek-out does not stop there.  Attempts to date the postcard yielded a trove of information that takes this piece to epic levels of amazing.

We started with the stamp.  Although the postmark date remained illegible, we were able to track down some reliable-looking information about the stamp’s origins.  Issued in 1927 and dedicated to the French chemist Marcelin Berthelot, the commemorative stamp suggests that the postcard probably dates to the late 1920s.

There’s more.  The Christmas postcard is addressed to Mr. and Mrs. James Stephens.

James Stephens, like Joyce, was an Irish-born writer.  According to an article by Richard R. Finneran published in the James Joyce Quarterly, the two men did not immediately become friends.  Indeed, their relationship remained somewhat antagonistic until the 1920s.   Despite this early frostiness, Joyce and Stephens agreed around 1927-1929 that, should Joyce face insurmountable difficulties in completing Finnegan’s Wake, Stephens would finish the work for him.

This postcard, held here at Salisbury House, surely dates to this very time, during which Joyce and Stephens cemented their friendship and struck their agreement regarding Finnegan’s Wake.  

This postcard, held here in the Salisbury House collections, illuminates the story of one of the greatest literary creations of the twentieth century.

Merry Christmas.

Objects Come Home to Salisbury House

After a recent Chamber Music event at Salisbury House, two of our guests approached Deputy Executive Director Cyndi Pederson and offered her an envelope, asking her to open it while they were there. Much to her delight, the envelope contained a yellowed Christmas Card with an image of the Salisbury House north (front) door, signed by Carl and Edith Weeks, who built this house and amassed its extraordinary collections.

Cover of a Salisbury House Christmas Card, circa 1945.

Cover of a Salisbury House Christmas Card, circa 1945.

It was very kind of our guests to return this card to the House whence it originated, and we are grateful to them and so many others who have helped the Salisbury House Foundation recover lost or forgotten objects over the years. I have written before on this blog about the importance of objects in interpreting and presenting the human history of this and other historic properties, and new objects — while seemingly insignificant on their own — can often provide important insights when placed in their proper physical and chronological position.

While this card has no date on it, we can confidently state that it was mailed in the mid-1940s, because we have enough other images and data points to know that Carl and Edith habitually included the names of whichever of their four sons happened to be living at Salisbury House when they signed seasonal cards, so this piece is very likely from after 1940 (when Lafe left Salisbury House) and 1941 (when Hud and his wife moved into the Caretakers’ Cottage). Each and every small item like this provides us with another data point to track and hone our analysis of the family and their history here, and sometimes a single additional piece of information can provide a “eureka” moment to answering big questions or uncovering momentous matters.

Christmas greetings from Carl and Edith Weeks, after their boys had moved out of Salisbury House.

Christmas greetings from Carl and Edith Weeks, after their boys had moved out of Salisbury House.

One of the interesting aspects of having objects come home to Salisbury House is that it leads us to ponder the manner in which they left. Some of Carl and Edith’s art collections, papers, photos and memorabilia have been passed down to family members. Some art work was donated by Carl and Edith to sites such as the Art Center and Scottish Rite Consistory in Des Moines. Papers were donated by sons Hud and William to The University of Utah, documenting young Carl’s travels in Southwestern Utah around the turn of the 20th Century, while other papers relating to the Armand Company and books from Carl’s erotica collection now reside in the Special Collections Library at the University of Iowa.

Many objects left Salisbury House because Carl and Edith were both admirable, regular, well-traveled correspondents with a huge number of friends, acquaintances and admirers, so there are no doubt countless letters, cards and other ephemeral materials packed away in attics, trunks, antique shops and private residences around the country, if not the world. We have a mysterious 1930 note to Carl in our collection from Edith Bolling Wilson, widow of President Woodrow Wilson, thanking him for his “kindness in sending me the small package.” What was in the package? And what story would be able to tell if it came home?

What "small package" did Carl mail to President Wilson's widow? And what if it came home?

What “small package” did Carl mail to President Wilson’s widow? And what if it came home?

Other objects left the House when the Iowa State Education Association (ISEA) had its headquarters at Salisbury House from 1954 to 1998, and renovated parts of the property to make it work for their purposes. The kitchen and scullery, for example, were dismantled and converted into office spaces, so the stove, refrigerator and dishwasher that were once used to feed Carl and Edith’s family members and guests have disappeared into the haze of history, barring a few photos. We do, however, have some original kitchen cabinetry stored in an attic and some counter fixtures that spent years rotting in a farmers’ pasture, and we have recently been contacted about a possible Salisbury House kitchen sink that’s installed in a currently unoccupied home. We hope that sink and other similar objects might come home as we work to restore the historic kitchen to at least an accurate facsimile of its original configuration, and that such a restoration effort will roust other lost objects from their hiding places.

Perhaps the most controversial object to leave Salisbury House was Joseph Stella’s monumental painting, Tree of My Life, which was sold by ISEA in 1986 to raise funds for much-needed deferred maintenance on the property. It is now in the hands of a private collector with a bequest intention to a major art gallery, so it is not likely to come home, ever. And at a very bottom line basis, the Salisbury House Foundation itself was created to ensure that such trade-offs never have to be made again, by creating new philanthropic and operational revenue streams to care for the house, so that its objects may stay here, in perpetuity, for the cultural and educational benefit of the public.

As we mature into our role as an established and trustworthy operator of an exceptional historic house museum, more people are demonstrating their willingness to bring their own Salisbury House or Weeks Family objects back to us, either to be donated into the permanent collection, or to be properly researched and digitally documented for our archives, to help us better tell our story to the next generation of visitors.

Do you have any of the objects that left Salisbury House? They could be papers, furniture, paintings, books, photographs, house decorations, fixtures, Armand or related commercial products, or other objects that we don’t even know exist at this point. If you have some of them, we would certainly love to talk to you about having them come home, maybe just for a short visit and study, or maybe even for good, as a philanthropic donation to the Salisbury House Foundation.

You have our word that they will be in good hands, and that they will be cherished, studied, and celebrated as important parts of the extraordinary Salisbury House history. Who knows what “eureka” moment they might bring?