Tuesday, September 11, 2012

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"I recently picked up a book called Writing and Selling Greeting Card Verse (published 1947) at a library book sale," says PermaRec reader Tim Wood. "Inside was a polite rejection letter suggesting that the recipient might find the book useful." The book cover and the letter are both shown above.

Every writer, myself included, has had to deal with rejection letters, but this one seems straight out of central casting. The letterhead design, featuring the quill in the ink bottle, is a mocking reminder of the genteel, sophisticated world to which the applicant is being denied entry. And the letter was addressed to a Mrs. George E. Peabody -- a perfect name for an aspiring greeting card writer, no?

But what was Mrs. Peabody's first name? It took me about 45 seconds to find the Peabody family's entry in the 1940 census, as you can see in the highlighted section here (click to enlarge):

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George is listed as the head of the household and a dairy farmer; his wife's name is listed as Alice. So assuming George didn't remarry at some point in the ensuing nine years, it was Alice Peabody who sent her greeting card verse to the Gibson Art Company. Based on the census entry, she would have been 36 at that time.

Did Alice Peabody ever realize her literary ambitions? I poked around a bit and found this obituary for her, which ran in the July, 5, 2004, edition of the Rutland Herald (click to enlarge):

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Sounds like Alice led a very full life. There's no mention of greeting card verse, but the obit does say, "Alice also believed in the power of the vote and the press. Editors knew her well for lessons in grammar, syntax, proper usage and spelling, and her frequent contributions to the opinion pages." So Alice apparently got to express herself in print, even if it wasn't in the form of greeting cards.

Meanwhile, what about the company to which Alice sent her verse -- the Gibson Art Company? I'd never heard of them, but they were apparently once a pretty big player in the greeting card market. There's a fairly extensive company history here, although it's not up-to-date. The product line has since been acquired by American Greetings, under which Gibson is now a subsidiary brand. But lots of the company's old cards can be found on eBay.

Finally, if you're curious about the book that the Gibson folks sent to Alice, Tim has generously scanned several of its pages, which you can see here.

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