First Day of Year Has Memorabilia Galore

By Robert Reed
 While the celebration of the first day of the calendar year is one of the world’s oldest events. The collecting of related memorabilia is still relatively new.
 Yet the interest is clearly rising in the United States and other countries.
 Party hats, postcards, holiday menus, lithographed noise makers, magazine covers, even specially illustrated transit tickets are being gathered as New Year’s Day collectibles.
 Certainly the widely-observed holiday does not command the crowd of collectors that follow Christmas, Halloween, or even Valentine’s Day. However historically the New Year’s holiday is exceptional.
 During the days of the ancient Babylonian the New Year was celebrated in March of every year with feasts which lasted for many days. Early Romans know how to ‘party’ for the event as well but began their merriment with the winter’s solstice in the second half of December. When Julius Caesar became Emperor of Rome he moved to put the calendar into basically its present form, and thus made the event arrive on the first day of January.
 Throughout history the New Year has been celebrated in ways including gift giving in some cultures and elaborate outside and inside home decorations in some cultures.
 Interestingly in early America the Pilgrims who fostered this country’s own Thanksgiving holiday, steadfastly refused to take note of New Year’s Day. Some religious groups shunned it claiming that January had been named by the Romans for the ‘heathen’ god Janus. As an alternative it was known as the First Month.
 Evidence suggests that the holiday began to produce artifacts toward the end of the 19th century. Banners of various materials from cloth to silver foil were produced declaring Happy New Year, or Auld Lang Syne for display in some homes.  In some cases the banners were commercially made, but often they were crafted by the celebrants themselves.
 Some elaborate late Victorian dining tables were known to have included festive Father Time silver teaspoons with engraved matching bowls which proclaimed to guests, Happy New Year.”
 During the 1880s firms sometimes extended greetings of the New Year to their best customers in the form of a printed card. For example, in 1881 the Bromwell Manufacturing Company of Cincinnati sent out very finely detailed cards etched with birds and flowers to offer “a Happy New Year and well wishes.” That same year the children’s book New Year’s Bargain by Susan Coolidge was published. It was re-issued in 1901 by Little and Brown with illustrations by Addie Ledyard.
 The first significant wide-spread use of Happy New Year’s greetings came in the form of postcards as the ‘new’ 20th century dawned.
 “Those who did not send Christmas greetings often sent New Year wishes instead, especially during the post card craze of the early 1900s,” note Pauline and Don Campanelli authors of the highly comprehensive Holiday Collectibles, A Price Guide.
 Frequent subjects of such Happy New Year postcards were children, chimney sweeps, elves, pigs, and the numbers of the  New Year itself known as Year Dates.
 Probably the prized artist of the New Year postcards is Frances Brundage. The famed artist frequently used little girls or young women in her artwork. Most such cards bore the artist’s signature, although some earlier examples were unsigned. Other notable artists to contribute their talents to postcards greeting New Year included Ellen Clapsaddle and H.B. Griggs.
Such holiday oriented postcards in general and New Year’s greetings in particular, continued to be popular in the United States will into the early 1920s.
 The Roaring Twenties brought the observance of the New Year holiday to new heights in terms of partying encounters. Consequently there was great demand for commercially made items which would help to highlight such events.
During the 1920 party table centerpieces featured dancing figures, Father Time, and Baby New Year. Celluloid folding fans, frying plan rattles with dual clappers, metal cow bells, and ‘Cat Cry’ squeakers all proclaimed the event or at least bore a festive design or figure.
 Paper hats for the New Year’s party of that decade could also be quite extensive as well. One 1924 wholesale catalog offered a vast assortment of New Year’s crepe paper hats depicting comic figures. Other catalog selections included a chauffeur’s hat with goggles, and a folding black paper top hat. There were even indoor fireworks which, “when lighted burst, showering contents of small favors and cotton balls.”
 Decorated wooden ratchet noisemakers were especially popular with party populations of the 1920s, by the 1930s these and a wide selection of other noisemakers would generally be replaced with metal versions of brightly colored lithograph.
Both the J. Chein Company and the Kerchief Company produced an extensive number of brightly colored metal noisemakers during the 1930s. Chein catalogs of that era featured everything from mallet rattles to tambourines. Likewise the Kerchief company a full line of “Life of the Party” products which also included excellent tambourines as well as other assorted noisemakers.
 A great number of the early to middle 20th century paper products which served to inspire the New Year holiday came from the Beistle Company and from the Dennison Company. Both highly respected firms were famous for holiday-related materials. Beistle made novel table and wall decorations and graphic party hats, among other things. Dennison manufactured paper plates, paper table cloths, costumes, napkins, paper cups, and banner decorations.
 New Year celebration items were much more plentiful in the 1950s and 1960s. Beistle continued to dominate the trade with inspiring party hats, while Kerchief and others added to the variety of noisemakers.
 Today the field of New Year collectibles extends that Waldorf Astoria or Fountainbleau menu with the big event highlighted on each sparkling cover. Also included are black and white photographs of gala parties, special invitations, and delicate party favors which call attention to the special New Year in some way.
 Last but not least, retail store decorations that called attention to New Year specials in more contemporary times are also being sought out as both decorative and worthwhile. Recommended reading: Holiday Collectibles, A Price Guide by Pauline and Dan Campanelli (Schiffer Publishing).

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