Clapsaddle postards: Christmas personified

Posted December 26, 2012 at 12:00 am

 By MICHAEL BUSHNELL
Northeast News
December 26, 2012 

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This artist-signed Clapsaddle “Santa” postcard was sent to Ernest Julien of Amsterdam, Mo., on Dec. 23, 1907. Born Ellen Hattie Clapsaddle on Jan. 8, 1865, in South Columbia, N.Y., she had a lasting impact on the art world and is known today for her illustrations and postcards.

After graduating from Richfield Springs Seminary in 1882, Clapsaddle returned to South Columbia and began offering painting lessons out of her home. In 1891, she expanded her repertoire and began to paint landscapes and portraits. This gained her notice by the International Art Company, which soon hired her as a full-time artist. International Art used her designs on valentines, booklets, watercolor prints, calendars and trade cards, which were the precursor to postcards.

At the age of 30, she joined the Wolf Company at a time when postcards were reaching their zenith as both an art form and a communication medium. The company was doing so well that they sent her to Germany to work directly with the their engravers. However, being there meant Clapsaddle would get caught up in the 1914 outbreak of World War I. Factories were burned and records destroyed, spelling disaster for the Wolf Company and most of the American postcard companies as well. It wasn’t long before Clapsaddle found herself displaced, penniless and alone in a foreign land. Despite the company’s implosion, one of the Wolf brothers borrowed the last bit of cash he could and went to Europe in search of Clapsaddle. After six months, he found her walking the streets hungry, sick and alone, literally unable to care for herself. Wolf brought her back to New York where he could take care of her, but sadly, her diminished mental state meant she no longer had the ability to earn a living; her health declined rapidly. On Jan. 7, 1934, Ellen Hattie Clapsaddle died, one day short of her 69th birthday, again penniless and alone, in the Peabody Home in New York City.

Today, Clapsaddle postcards are some of the most sought after art-signed postcards, some fetching upwards of $200 per card at auction.