Early Postcards Document Connection Between Thanksgiving and Football
A boatload of pre-war cards linking Thanksgiving and football are out there for the taking
Today, many of us associate football with Thanksgiving. Sure, it’s a day for being thankful, celebrating with relatives when we can, and eating too much food. But it’s also about plunking down on a couch and watching football games.
Thing is, the association between Thanksgiving and football isn’t a new idea. You can practically go back to the game’s origins to see that. Yale and Princeton first began playing on Thanksgiving way back in 1876 before we even had what are generally accepted as the modern rules of football. The mindset, according to Wikipedia, was that it was a good time for a game as most people were off from work that day.
While the Thanksgiving and football combination is documented on a number of items, in terms of pre-war cards, we see the pair linked quite a bit particularly on postcards. Cigarette and tobacco cards, along with trade cards, were really at the forefront of the hobby in the late 1800s. But soon after that came sports-themed postcards. These postcards sometimes featured actual athletes. Other times, they only represented generic players. The latter is where you’re prone to find the most Thanksgiving football cards.
There are quite a few of these out there. Many are from the sweet spot of the pre-war postcard era, which is probably from the early 1900s into the 1910s.
One of my favorites is this first one, featuring an unidentified man. I’ve always liked this postcard ever since I got my hands on one.
He’s clearly a football player and the title at the bottom even calls him the ‘World’s 20th Century Champion.’ Besides the football theme, it’s overly cool because of the red, white, and blue uniform. It really has more of a Fourth of July / Independence Day theme to it but, in the context of Thanksgiving it still works.
This one, like several others has a gold border around it, similar to what we see with the T205 baseball cards. That was a popular color around this time and, when the cards are in great shape, it’s an awesome look. Unfortunately, damage gets to these quite a bit and even the small nicks and wear in the borders will show up with an unwelcome white spot.
Still, by all measures, it’s possibly my favorite Thanksgiving football postcard.
While this one pictured a man, the majority of Thanksgiving football postcards featured younger children. Some, like many other postcards, had a bit of humor mixed in. That was extremely common.
Another one of my favorites is this postcard here that kind of has that vibe.
This is one of the more common Thanksgiving postcards you’ll see that include the sport of football. It might have been the first one I ever bought and it is plentiful to be sure.
This postcard features a young boy with a football going head to head with a turkey. We again have a direct mention of Thanksgiving at the top, as this was sort of a greeting card postcard. Notably, there are two different types of these. One has a tan background as shown here and a second version has an all olive green background.
The boy shown here is carrying an oversized football and running towards a turkey. It is also distinctive as it carries a ‘4806’ in the corner. To help classify/separate types of postcards (likely for the printers), they were often printed with a number like this one.
The oversized football should be cause for concern for collectors seeking football instead of rugby.
Football’s origins came from rugby and in early American football, a larger ball was used. Further, we know this is an American football card as it mentions the American holiday of Thanksgiving. These Thanksgiving cards are all generally for American football.
Football and turkey are probably the two foremost subjects on these early postcards. Another fairly common one is this postcard picturing a boy with a turkey and a football in the middle.
Again, we’ve got the Thanksgiving name as well as a gold border. This one is also numbered in the lower right corner and is 4106.
If these are a little dull for your liking, there are some that are a bit more geared towards the actual playing of the sport.
Some, like this one, place the emphasis squarely on playing football. Here, we’ve got a picture of two teams battling it out. This is another somewhat common one depicting a game being played. Ironically, we don’t even see the actually football shown here.
The outer edge is adorned with noisemakers and ribbons. The ‘Rah, Rah, Rah’ gives this one a cheerleader feel and that is another popular theme as many non-Thanksgiving postcards did the same.
One of the great things about most of these postcards is that they are generally pretty inexpensive. Finding Thanksgiving and football themed postcards for under $20 isn’t too difficult. Some sellers may be inclined to ask for more (especially around this time of year) but on eBay, many of them are often under that amount.
You can also find them even cheaper with some patience. Collectors should also note that unused postcards are worth more than ones that have been written on and postally used. I personally enjoy reading the messages on them and collect either type. But if you stumble upon a cheaper one, often it will be because one side is written on. When buying online, having scans of both sides is very helpful.