“Merry xmas & happy new year to you–Billy”

1904 Post Card, Front

Postcards are dull. Whether in a supermarket aisles or at the Hallmark stores, they make for a boring, sophomoric (at best) wit. Just like a t-shirt with a snarky childish quote, these new cards tend to smack you with a dull poseur attitude. I still scratch my head at the idea that Hallmark was the conspiratorial instigator of all of the consumerist holidays like Valentines, and others in order to sell “cards.”

Old postcards are different, they tend to leave room for wit, intelligence and care.  Above all, there is a human touch in conveying a feeling in handwriting, especially, when it is done with a fountain pen. Picture postcards are even better. They present the recipient with an “on the subject” location that embellish the message, and add to its content –no silly cartoons, or sappy meaningless poetry, or pictures of kittens.

1904 Post Card, Back –Luxor, Egypt

“Merry Xmas & happy new year to you–Billy.”

Over a century later, I am baffled by the travels of this little card. A sentiment started in Luxor Egypt; travelled to Cincinnati Ohio, by way of New York; onto Villa Leonie, Menton (Alpes Maritime), France; and back to Cincinnati, Ohio.

Now one might ask how and why this subject is appealing? Well, there is a mixture of curiosity and voyeurism here. This card has all the hallmarks of a profound oddity. Signposts are everywhere within the words pointing to  intriguing travel stations along its journey,  begging to be discovered and cataloged. It boils down to going through an exercise of detective work, all due to jots of ink of addresses, dates, names, and most important of all, a crossed out line.

The personalities involved, especially their status in society, and their proximate relation to history and archaeology was of utmost importance. The investigation was surprisingly fruitful and very satisfying.

The first thing that piqued my interest in the card was the subject: Egypt. Followed, by the twentieth century Egyptian and (oddly) American stamps.  Seals, from three continents in three languages: Arabic, French and English, and fountain pen writings that include an odd crossed out recipient.


This was the time of the Ottoman rule: “Khedivate of Egypt,” where the country was an autonomous state of the Ottoman empire at its waning years. Informally Egypt was a veiled British protectorate, ruled by British Consuls. Ultimately, this is no more than one proud tourist sending a Luxor card form Egypt to someone back home. The relation of this sender is unknown, and it is intriguing, as there is no last name included on the card: family, friend??.

The Cincinnati Connection

Cincinnati’s Roebling bridge. Yes, as in John Augustus Roebling, the same fella that Architected the Brooklyn one.

Rawson was a prominent family in the history of Cincinnati. They made their fortune from the hog packing industry which propelled them to be the wealthiest in the city. The card was addressed to Mary Rawson, in care of Josephine Rawson Esq. (Her niece). Josephine worked at the First National Bank of Cincinnati, where another Rawson, her uncle Joseph, was the vice-president.

Leaving Cairo Egypt on the eve of 1904, The Christmas wish left Cincinnati again at 7 PM, January 11, 1904. With a jot of ink, Josephine crossed her own name and re-addressed the card. It is now destined again to Mary, who is in Menton, the South of France, at a place called Villa Leonie which still exists as a hotel in Nice. A transit seal shows the card passing through New York on January 13th (perhaps out of the New York harbor), and arriving to Menton (Alpes Maritime), France on January 22. Not too Shabby, considering that this is not Air Mail (no airplanes existed back then save for the “Wright Flyer” of Orville and Wilber Wright.)  Amazingly, it took less than 9 days to make the journey across the Atlantic.

Ironically, this same card made it back once more to Cincinnati.  No stamps, seals, or dates are on the card, yet records from the Springrove cemetery indicates the death of Mary in Menton and her burial on 6 Jan 1930 in the family mausoleum at this very old and distinguished cemetery in Cincinnati.  This card must have made the journey back with Mary’s belongings, and for me to acquire it close to a century later.

America in the 1900

Mary seems to have been living in France. A woman of high society and education, she could afford leaving the US behind and moving to France to be an expatriate on the beautiful Mediterranean. From what I gathered of publications about the Rawson family, travel, ivy league education and the arts have a prominent place in their lives, starting with the Elder Rawson, Joseph Sr. who traveled through Europe for museums and music interests. Just like the majority of American elites in their time, culture must have meant a lot to them, as each and every member of that family led an interesting life. This was a formative time in the history of the US.  Teddy Roosevelt was president, Ford Motor company got established, The Wright brothers make their first powered flight in the Wright Flyer, and the Panama Canal Zone acquired.  While the civil war was not a distant memory, people were not thinking of Depressions.  Rather than world wars, people were looking forward to world fairs, and the US was starting to assert its power on the world stage with treaties and doctrines.

The Rawson family ties for this post

Classical Archaeology

This card adds one more intriguing twist. Beside the Rawson family wealth and status, Mary is an aunt to another famous woman: Marion Rawson.  A pioneering classical archaeologist who was credited along with Carl Blegen of the University of Cincinnati of finding evidence to substantiate and date the sack of Troy described in Homer’s Iliad. Wealth, education, and dedication to the arts seemed to have come together to produce Marion.  She and her sister found their calling in archaeology.  This interest was not so trivial, as the combination of independence and hard work were instrumental in Marion being a crucial contributor to the uncovering of the palaces of Priam and Nestor.

This card made an amazing journey through the world.  From Africa, to America, to Europe, and back to America.  This was accomplished due to stature and rich lives of each of the people on the card. There are brushes with wealth, fame, classical and modern history at a crucial time in the story of American power ascendancy, the eclipse of the Ottoman empire, and the change in the whole world order for centuries to come. It is amazing how a few words on a humble post card can peel so many layers from the past.  Most of all, it is that crossed-out line, which created such dissonance, that ended up prodding us on such a special journey.



Billet from the Leviathan


Troop Billet, USS Leviathan -Front

Always been fascinated by ocean liners, transport ships and anything that was of Great Wars and maritime historical value.  Early twentieth century is laden with war, grit  and romance. Imagine my excitement when I came across this gem last weekend. A Troop Billet from the USS Leviathan, the ship famously known as a spoil of war of sort. The ship was originally built as Vaterland for Germany, it was seized in 1917 around WWI by the U.S. government and renamed Leviathan. Before the armistice on 11 November 1918 the ship transported over 119,000 fighting men from the US to Europe, mostly to Brest, France.

USS Leviathan in dazzle camouflage

The Leviathan had a very rich history. Its mystique augmented by the fact that among the ship’s US Navy crew during that period was future film star Humphrey Bogart. The ship was decommissioned and was lavishly refurbished to be used for trans-Atlantic crossings under the management of U.S. Lines. The Leviathan proved to be very popular and a huge symbol of American power and prestige. The ship was literally America’s first Super Liner.

Troop Billet, WWI USS Leviathan – Back

Aside from its military service, the Leviathan was a subject of inspiration in art and music.  It was a witness to the roaring twenties big orchestra Fox Trots,  as well as illustrations and propaganda posters. The internet is replete with pictures and YouTube videos featuring the elegance and historical value of the ship.

SS Leviathan, by J.C.Leyendecker

On a personal level, I wish the billet has the troop’s name and rank.  Yet, with that lack, it makes for a powerful testament to the sacrifices of the “Unknown Soldier.” Incidentally, this billet is surprisingly kept in good shape after almost a century from the time it was issued.

Additional Videos:

SS Leviathan – America’s First Super Liner

Sailing on the SS Leviathan (1929)

S.S. Leviathan and her Passengers – Then it must be love

SS Vaterland and Leviathan

Life aboard the American troopship, SS Leviathan, during World War I. HD Stock Footage

Views of engine controls and boilers of the SS Leviathan troop transport ship dur…HD Stock Footage

s.s. Vaterland, Hamburg Amerika Line, Hapag, Soundtrack out Alexander-

Fake as a Three Dollar Bill


3 Dollar Bill, The Bank of Cincinnati

Dead sea scroll fragment??..  Close, yet not quite. Common knowledge dictates that a three dollar bill should be a “fake”. Well, here is one. As a matter or fact there are lots of these three dollar bills and they can command large sums of money. Research into the authenticity of this bill leads to interesting facts. It turned out that the Federal government never printed any denomination of this sort. As a mater of fact, the US government did not print its own currency until the civil war (mid 1800s), preferring to use gold and silver for purchases. Notes were IOU’s called legal tender or Demand Note. For this reason local banks and railroad were able to print currency. Anyone that can back the printed note with gold or silver was able to print them.
Lots of colorful currency made it to the markets, with idyllic scenes and patriotic themes. Depending on the issuing bank, there would be farming, railroad, or some famous city landmark on the printed bills. Interesting fact is that the limited availability of the printed notes made foreign money from pesos to other denominations accepted legal tender in most states. Local banks printed notes values fluctuated when used locally vs other towns/states. It was even possible to buy tender steeply discounted (outside the original market) and then sell back to the issuing bank for profit. So in the Civil War tender went up and down depending on the conduct of war, as both North and South printed money. it was not surprising to see 1000, 5000, 10000 notes as well as fraction ones, 25 and 50 cents.  The advent of technology made many of these denominations obsolete.  As for printing notes altogether, only with the establishment of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing that this practice slowed and eventually ceased.

The picture above is of a 3-dollar bill from the Bank of Cincinnati.  It is signed by George Hatch, the mayor of Cincinnati (from 1861-1863).   The faint block print shows the bustling commerce of Cincinnati and its riverfront on the Ohio, where the port teemed with steam boats. At that time, Cincinnati earned the nickname Porkopolis for being a chief hog packing center.  Rich history has Cincinnati earning other names: “City of Seven Hills”and “Queen of the West.”..

Aside from being a crucial station on the Underground Railroad, Cincinnati was known as a manufacturing and commerce town. Big industries from the 1800 and throughout the 20th century (especially for the world wars efforts) churned machines that literally “made” American machine shops and factories.  On the lighter side, a little known fact is that Cincinnati was a national beer brewing hub (thanks to the city’s influential German heritage), and a proud home of a strange concoction, called  the Cincinnati “Chili”–made out of spaghetti and a meat sauce, adored by fans, and despised by many– (thanks to the city’s old Greek diaspora.)  Also, Cincinnati has many firsts: the first AM radio station (WLW), the first licensed public TV station (WCETV-TV), and the first city in the world for having a paid fire department and for using steam fire engines.

As for the 3-dollar bill, it would be interesting to know what role the city government had in printing this money (Hatch’s signature,) as the mayor in Cincinnati and not a banker, when the printing is normally done by local banks (is it to lend legitimacy?). For this piece, it is hard to tell whether Hatch’s signature is hand written or part of the engraving. An examination of similar examples from other banks shows the signatures as authentically hand-written. As for Hatch, he had an interesting presence in the history of Cincinnati and the Civil War, from when the Confederate forces were about to cross the Ohio River into Indiana (and Cincinnati), to the protest for the creation of “The Black Brigade of Cincinnati” –a military unit that was organized in 1862 to defend the city (another first.) –If this tattered piece of paper could speak!!