Plzeňské sympozia

Radim Vondráček

New Year Greetings as a Form of Charity

pp. 227–236 (Czech), Summary p. 237 (English)

The sales of New Year greeting cards, which came to be known as “sorry-cards”, or Entschuldigungskarten in German, represented in the 19th century a very significant source of charitable contributions to facilities catering for the needy. In Prague, the charitable sale of New Year cards was first introduced in the late 1820s. The first time they were distributed was at the end of 1827, probably at the behest of the Prague burgrave Karel Chotek who had become acquainted with this novelty during his previous tenure in Innsbruck (in Tyrol, this form of charity had been introduced as early as before 1820). The term “sorry-cards” suggested that by purchasing the card, its giver was making excuses for not performing the usual New Year visits of the poor, instead opting to contribute in this form. The introduction of the cards thus spared their givers’ time and efforts, yet at the same time it led to a certain de-personalization of charity. Consequently, the form of printed sorry-cards can be regarded as a symptomatic evidence of newly emerging pattern of social relations, particularly in the urban environment, and also as one of many attributes of the advancing process of modernization. The early 19th century was in fact also a period that witnessed the first golden age of personal utility printed matter (visiting cards, birthday and other greeting cards, etc.), supplanting actual person-to-person forms of communication. In Prague, proceeds from sorry-card sales were destined to go to the Private Society for the Benefit of Local Residents in Need (Privat-Verein zur Unterstützung der Hausarmen in Prague). Their art aspect was during the 1830s most often the work of an outstanding Prague-based engraver, Jiří Döbler, who mostly engraved his prints on designs by a gifted graduate of the Prague Academy of Fine Art, Josef Führich. The various themes echoed the spirit of Czech patriotism and harked back to Czech history (Saint Wenceslas, Saint Adalbert), highlighted the realm’s artistic heritage, or depicted examples of charity (Saint Martin). In the medium’s first year alone, sales exceeded five thousand New Year greeting cards. The receipts were used chiefly for the funding of Rumford’s soup kitchens (over 243,000 portions were handed out between January and March 1828), plus purchases of blankets, firewood, and clothing for schoolchildren.

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