Bible Lessons

Continuing my trend of posting pre-war cards on Mondays, today I’m going to look at a pile of cards I found at my parents’ house last summer. We’d saved a bag of ephemera from my grandparents’ house but I’d never properly looked through it. Last summer, as I was finally clearing my stuff out of my parents’ I took a moment to look through the bag.

It was pretty cool. Lots of valentines and postcards but what caught my eye was a stack of over 50 Sunday school Bible lesson cards. The oldest of the cards are from 1902—older than both of my grandparents actually. I’m not going to scan the entire stack but this one shows off why they caught my eye. Most of them are printed in wonderful chromolithography with lush bright colors and really intricate artwork.

The more I look a old cards like these the more I appreciate the stipple patterns and the way they were designed for specific inks rather than being a generic CMYK process screen like I’m used to. Yes I love looking at my halftone rosettes too but there’s a world of difference in looking at an image being reproduced in process colors and one which is using each ink for a specific purpose.

Despite starting in 1902, there’s a decade gap in years before a good run of cards starts in 1912. These 1912 cards are printed just as nicely and the dark cards are especially nice with the amount of contrast they can hold.

What caught my eye the most with these though is that while they’re produced in the United states, the text is all in German. This fits with family history since my great-grandparents immigrated from what would eventually become Germany* and so attending a German-language church makes complete sense.

*Family lore, the timing of the immigration, and where my ancestors came from all point to them trying to escape the Prussian Army in the 1870s. All of which makes it difficult for me to say that my ancestors come from Germany.

The thing about printing these in German though is that it’s a reminder of how there have always been multiple languages in the United States. There’s a lot of ahistoric “speak American” rubbish that comes from the racist wing of our society and it’s important to remember how not only has the US always been multilingual, that there have been large institutions set up to support those languages.

This isn’t a single German church in California printing its own Sunday school lessons in the basement. This is a printing company in Rhode Island which is supplying these cards to churches across the country.

I have German-language cards from 1912 through 1915. Again not scanning everything but I’ve selected a few examples where the artwork really pops. I especially love the card of The Deluge (Die Sintflut) and how the stippling changes so much between the swirling water, solid boat, and sleeting rain. It’s kind of the perfect example of what chromolithography does best.

The backs are also in Fraktur which, as I mentioned before in my first Sanella post, is especially interesting due to the direction that German typesetting would go in the following decades.

1915 though is the last year of German language cards. The last card I have from that year is from the 4th quarter so my family appeared to attend that church through most of the year. I have no idea if they moved or if this is related to the changing political climate.

Anyway, starting in 1916 the cards are in English. More disappointingly, they’re now printed with a standard halftone screen. The art doesn’t glow the same way and they’re nowhere near as fun to look at. They’re still pretty cool though for being over a century old. As my kids are going through their catechism it’s interesting to compare their lessons and the worksheets they get in church to these cards.

Of the 50 or so cards I have from 1912 to 1917, it’s worth noting that none of them appear to duplicate the same story. Yes these are from different manufacturers but I have about a year’s worth of Sundays over enough time to cover two full liturgical cycles.

Definitely fun to look through in an album (these are roughly 3″×4″ so they‘re in 4-pocket pages). They’re currently in order chronologically but it might be fun to reorder them by the order events happen in the Bible.

Author: Nick Vossbrink

Blogging about Photography, Museums, Printing, and Baseball Cards from both Princeton New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area. On Twitter as @vossbrink, WordPress at njwv.wordpress.com, and the web at vossbrink.net

2 thoughts on “Bible Lessons”

  1. Very cool piece of history. The stuff we discover while cleaning . My knowledge of churches is limited. The one I used to attend on a regular basis (back in the 90’s) passed out a handout. Never saw these cards. I wonder if there are still churches out there that distribute something like these.

  2. I have a few in my collection as well, later into the 1920’s but also a large piece, 5×7, in the chromo style produced by Hires Root Beer that offered a premium in a much larger format in exchange for five Hires labels. Interesting read, thanks for posting.

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