Cartomancy Postcards by Fred C. Lounsbury
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- Patreon Release Date: September 28th, 2021
- Public Release Date: September 28th, 2022.
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All of the material you have access to here -- the instructive booklets, the nostalgic postcards, the boldly graphic ephemera, and all of the historical information researched and shared from the mind of the woman who is making it all happen -- can easily fit into one 8 x 10 foot room in an old Victorian farmhouse, but you would never see it without the investment of the time it takes to produce such a site and the caloric input such a site requires in the form of food for the writer, graphic designer, and database manager, as well as the US currency needed to pay for the computers, software applications, scanners, electricity, and internet connectivity that bring it out of that little room and into the world. -- can easily fit into one 8 x 10 foot room in an old Victorian farmhouse, but you would never see it without the investment of the time it takes to produce such a site and the caloric input such a site requires in the form of food for the writer, graphic designer, and database manager, as well as the US currency needed to pay for the computers, software applications, scanners, electricity, and internet connectivity that bring it out of that little room and into the world. So, as you can see, this site is the darling of many, and it is growing at a rapid rate ... but although it is "free," there also is a cost. Your financial support underwrites this cost.
In 1907 Fred C. Lounsbury of the Crescent Embossing Company of Plainfield, New Jersey, was fully engaged in the postcard craze that had overtaken America and the rest of the world. Known primarily for his patriotic and holiday chromolithographic cards, he branched out into several notably magical and divinatory sets of cards, including a set on Good Luck curios, a set on Tea Leaf Reading (on display at my Mystic Tea Room website), a set on Palmistry, one each on readings made with Dominoes and Dice, and a set called "Good Fortunes as told by Cards." By 1910 he had offices in New York City and Philadelphia, as well as a sales representative based in Boston.
These are Lounsbury's five sets of fortune telling postcards from 1907 and 1908. There seems to me to be a total of 24 cards. (I may be missing some, but this is my total so far, after many years of collecting):
- Series No # Dice Postcards by Fred C. Lounsbury (3 cards)
- Series 2306 Domino Postcards by Fred C. Lounsbury (4 cards)
- Series 2307 Cartomancy Postcards by Fred C. Lounsbury (8 cards)
- Series 2308 Tea Cup Reading Postcards by Fred C. Lounsbury (6 cards)
- Series 2309 Palmistry Reading Postcards by Fred C. Lounsbury (3 cards)
Lounsbury's cartomancy set was officially marked as Crescent series 2037, 1 through 8, and the cards are sequentially numbered as such on their faces. The word "Crescent" -- the name of the company -- was stylized as a waning crescent moon that formed the letter "C."
In keeping with the name and original purpose of the Crescent Embossing Company, all of Fred C. Lounsbury's cards were embossed, and most were gilded as well. While the level of perfection achieved by German chromolithography was not within his reach, his cards, along with those of E. Nash, are considered some of the most artistic examples of postcard art produced in America. They are not common, in part due to the flooding of the market with so many beautiful German cards, and collecting full card sets of any Lounsbury topic can take several years.
Although Fred C. Lounsbury's name and copyright notice appear on the front of virtually all of his cards, and many card series seem to have been drawn and lettered by the same artist, it was well known at the time that Lounsbury was a highly aesthetic printer, but he did not draw or letter all of the cards he produced and printed. Today we would think of him as a graphic designer, press foreman, editor, and publisher. We do know, however, that all of the Lounsbury fortune telling and good luck cards were the work of one artist -- they are remarkably similar in their approach to design and lettering.
Notice that these postcards are titled "Good Fortunes as told by Cards." By now you will have noticed that there are no "Bad Fortunes" in the set. For instance, with the exception of its obligatory inclusion in the "Four Tens" card, the suit of Spades, traditionally associated with pain, loss, warfare, and separation, is absent from the series. The reason for this should be obvious: The cards were meant to be sent as a form of happy prediction to a friend, relative, sweetheart, or fellow postcard enthusiast. Like Chinese fortune cookies, these cards bring good tidings only.
In addition to the playing cards which give the fortune on each postcard, we see examples of beautiful Sho-Card lettering, both embossed and gilded. The style is late Victorian, as are the beaux-arts designs for the border scrolls. Given their Edwardian era publication date of 1907, this leads me to think that the artist was in middle age at the time of designing the cards.
In the upper left of each card we see a woman dressed in a fine and expensive Victorian formal gown, a jeweled pendant resting on her bosom. She is looking at a layout of cards, perhaps telling her own fortunes. Beside her stands a man in a formal suit, either helping her to interpret the cards or assisting her in the creation of the layout. These upper-crust card readers seem to indicate that, for them, cartomancy is an amusement. However, lest you think that all of the Lounsbury fortune telling cards depict the pampered rich playing at divination, take a look at the Dice set, with its shabby Yukon miner; or the Palmistry set, with its old Bohemian witch; or the Tea Leaf set, in which an elderly lady tosses a cup for a much younger woman. The artist is showing us social and character stereotypes and linking them to the various forms of fortune telling.
So ... just how accurate are the fortunes on these cards? Or, to put it another way, how closely do they correspond to conventional systems of cartomancy? Well, first off, not all published or oral systems of cartomancy agree on the meaning of any given card. For example, according to "Fortune-Telling by Cards" by Prof. P. R. S. Foli [C. Arthur Pearson], published in 1903, The Nine of Hearts is "The wish card [...] the sign of riches, and of high social position accompanied by influence and esteem," while according to Lounsbury it is a card of "Success and Happiness." That is not too far off, but Foli's interpretation is far more specific. Likewise, while Lounsbury cites the Ten of Clubs as a sign of coming "Success and Riches," to Foli it is "Riches suddenly acquired, likely through the death of a relation or friend." Of course the death of a family member or friend, even if it brings wealth, is not strictly speaking, a "good" fortune, hence the riches remain and the death is elided from Lounsbury's divination. (The entire list of Foli's card divinations can be found on pages 88-92 of "Genuine Black and White Magic of Marie Laveau" by Zora Neale Hurston et al, published by the Lucky Mojo Curio Co. in 2018.)
Regardless of their accuracy according to conventional systems of card reading, "Good Fortunes as told by Cards" performed as sortilege cards. After all, some psychic impulse on the part of your friend, relative, sweetheart, or fellow card collector led to the selection of just one card out of the eight -- and it was mailed to you. The Universe has spoken! One way or the other, in luck, love, health, wealth, or business, you WILL have Good Fortune. Fred C. Lounsbury has decreed it so!
Thanks to my Patrons, who support this work, and to my husband, nagasiva yronwode, for help with scans and social media notifications.
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Your Wate and Fate