Newman Tower Exhibit: Biedermeier Greeting Cards

A Biedermeier greeting card featuring a boat and a message written in a corner flap.

The new Newman Tower of Exploration and Collections has provided the Julian Edison Department of Special Collections with a unique chance to share some of our most treasured collections with the public. In this post, we would like to highlight a beautiful collection of Biedermeier greeting cards exchanged between German family members in the early 19th century.

Intricate Greeting Cards with Moving Parts

 

A Biedermeier thank you card featuring a girl who curtsies when you move the tab below.

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries in Germany and Austria, it was popular to send greeting cards on holidays and to express thanks and feelings of friendship. The cards currently on display in the Newman Tower of Collections and Exploration come from the Beidermeier period and provide wonderful examples of paper engineering. Pull the tabs on one and carriage windows open to reveal the people inside. Another, a thank-you card, has a girl in traditional costume who curtsies.

A Biedermeier greeting card featuring a carriage with windows that open when you pull a tab.

A Biedermeier greeting card featuring a carriage with windows that open when you pull a tab.

The Biedermeier Period

The Biedermeier period in Europe spanned from the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815 and ended with the European revolutions of 1848. This period was characterized by relative peace and a growing middle class interested in the arts and private (rather than political) activities such as playing instruments, reading, and of course letter-writing. The name Biedermeier comes from a popular caricature of middle-class comfort known as “Papa Biedermeier” and was originally meant to be derogatory. Today we view Bierdermeier art as a critical transitional period between Classicism and Romanticism.

A Biedermeier greeting card featuring a classical couple and a message under the bottom flap.

A Biedermeier greeting card featuring a wheelbarrow. There is a wheel protruding from the card that you could spin to change the image in the wheelbarrow.

The cards in Washington University Libraries’ Biedermeier Collection were originally exchanged within an extended family in the state of Saxony-Anhalt in central Germany. They are engraved and hand-colored, and many contain handwritten messages. The cards are a charming expression of the culture of sentiment among the bourgeoisie, and we can trace the family’s social ties through the messages.

A Biedermeier greeting card that folds out into a bouquet of roses.

 

Sources:

“Biedermeier Style.” Encyclopedia Britannica. November 08, 2012.

About the author

Rose is a PhD candidate in English and American Literature at Washington University in St. Louis. When she is not working on her dissertation on post-1945 asylum novels or blogging about the amazing materials in Special Collections, she fills much of her time reading, writing, gardening, and wrestling.