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.

“The Book of Mormon” in Des Moines

Des Moines Performing Arts is one of the most crucial cultural resources in Central Iowa, working tirelessly to offer exceptionally high-quality, often challenging theatrical, musical and educational experiences at their three great downtown performing arts spaces: The Civic Center, The Stoner Theater and The Temple Theater. I’ve already enjoyed many performances through their great work, and look forward to another fabulous experience next Tuesday, when my wife and I will be going to see the Tony-winning play, The Book of Mormon.

It’s wonderful to see the advance enthusiasm that this theatrical performance is generating within our market, and its week-long run will no doubt play to rapt, packed houses, show after show. But, then, as happens with touring productions, The Book of Mormon (musical) will move on to Minneapolis after its exciting run here . . . while The Book of Mormon (first print edition, 1830) remains in Des Moines, in the Salisbury House Library, along with an extraordinary collection of other historic Mormon books and documents.

Just after the turn of the 20th Century, Carl Weeks (who built Salisbury House) was doing poorly. His first business — The Red Cross Pharmacy in Centerville, Iowa — had not been successful, and he had been diagnosed with “tubercular glands” which precipitated three painful rounds of surgery. Imagine how he must have felt when he then learned that his initial diagnosis had been incorrect, and he actually had nothing more than a case of tonsillitis. Needing a reprieve period to recover — physically and emotionally — and following the advice of his brother Deyet, Carl traveled to “Mormon Dixie,” the then-largely unexplored and unpopulated southwestern corner of Utah.

Carl’s time in Utah was clearly both restorative and formative. He returned to Des Moines, met, courted and married Edith, worked with his brothers in their patent medicine and toiletry businesses, and in 1915 launched the Armand brand that made him his fortune. The trip to Utah also instilled a love of the American West in Carl, and from the very first plans for what became Salisbury House, he clearly identified a need for an “Indian Room” where he could display his collections of Native American art and culture.

Carl also came home from Utah with a strong interest in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (commonly known as the Mormon Church), and he collected many important books and documents related to its history and culture. Additionally, he maintained a fascinating, lively correspondence for many years with Maurine Whipple, a nationally-prominent novelist and short story writer who lived and whose work was primarily set in Mormon Dixie.

Many of these documents and books remain in our collection today, and in honor of Des Moines Performing Arts’ opening of The Book of Mormon (musical), I share some of them with you, below. At our February Treasures Tour, Curator Leo Landis and I will have The Book of Mormon (first print edition) available for viewing, so if you’d like an up close and personal view of it, come see us! (Click on photos below to enlarge them).

This shelf in the Salisbury House Library is almost entirely dedicated to Mormon literature.

This shelf in the Salisbury House Library is almost entirely dedicated to early Mormon literature, including “A Plea for Polygamy.”

Title page, first edition "Book of Mormon."

First edition “Book of Mormon,” published in 1830 in Palmyra, New York.

1845 "Doctrine and Covenants," published in Nauvoo, Illinois.

1845 “Doctrine and Covenants,” published in Nauvoo, Illinois.

The Mormon Church published many immigrants guides to make it as easy to get to Utah as possible.

The Mormon Church and its partner presses published many immigrants’ guides to make it as easy to get to Utah as possible.

Once you arrived in Utah, this book would help you navigate.

Once you arrived in Utah, this book would help you navigate.

Signature of Joseph Smith, founding prophet of the Mormon Church. It is from the signature block of a letter to one of his wives.

Signature of Joseph Smith, founding prophet of the Mormon Church. It is from the signature block of a letter to one of his wives.

Letter signed by Brigham Young, who succeeded Joseph Smith and led the Mormon Immigrants to Utah, where he founded Salt Lake City and later become governor.

Letter signed by Brigham Young, who succeeded Joseph Smith and led the Mormon Immigrants to Utah, where he founded Salt Lake City and later become governor.

One of many letters in our archives from Utah/Mormon writer Maurine Whipple, in this case thanking Carl Weeks for advancing her funds to complete a book.

One of many letters in our archives from Utah/Mormon writer Maurine Whipple, in this case thanking Carl Weeks for advancing her funds to complete a book.