TAKE A LOOK AT A WEDDING HELD DURING A PAPER SHORTAGE, AT THE END OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR in Grenfell, NSW in 1918.
When I visited one of our regular ephemera donors (DB) to pick up a box of material, she was at a table with an intriguing spread of small bits of paper; they were the cards and gifts tags from her grandparents’ wedding. And they were intriguing. DB was sorting the gift tags by the names of the guests, thinking that they might be of more interest to the Grenfell local history society that way.
DB’s maternal grandparents, Catherine Eatock and Albert Axam, married in Grenfell (370km north west of Sydney) on 27th March 1918. Albert was a blacksmith and Catherine a hotel cook. They had six children, the youngest, Denise’s mother, was born in 1929. The family remained in Grenfell till Albert’s death in 1961. Denise’s mother kept the wedding box, which Denise now has.
A Trove newspaper search found a description of the wedding – who wore what and gifts exchanged among the wedding party. This allowed Denise to link a family watch with a bill of sale and guarantee – a wedding present from the bride to the groom.
The etiquette of that era started with an announcement in the newspaper, and the response to that was to send a gift. Formal wedding stationery was printed with the invitation to be issued by the bride’s family or the person hosting the wedding. After the wedding pieces of wedding cake were sent out and a calling card for the new couple would be printed and distributed.
The Axam wedding
For ephemera collectors, the best parts of this wedding’s records are: the printed invitation; the bill for the catering; the 30+ gift tags; and the calling card for the new Mr and Mrs Axam, courtesy of Catherine’s mother. The wedding was held in the groom’s hometown and so the wedding invitation was issued by Albert’s married sister, Mrs Hall.
The catering bill was incorrectly issued to the bride but redirected to Mrs Hall, who paid the bill in full the next day. The cake was £2 and the balance of the catering was £3. (The baker advertised that wedding cakes could be provided at the shortest notice – no doubt to accommodate weddings held when soldiers were home from the war.)
I am calling them gift tags as only two were actual formal gift cards – printed and in one case embossed to make a pretty card.
There are other cards which seem to have been cut by the giver, sometimes with a roughly punched hole for a ribbon or piece of tape to go through. The most remarkable to me were the sections of envelopes or parts of a lined sheet of writing paper – likely harvested from a drawer of useful bits of paper. One creative type used the decorative corners of some other document to craft her card.
The variety is lovely. The new Mrs Axam wrote the gift details on the back of each tag. She also compiled a list of gifts using letterhead from her husband’s business.
The paper shortage
Through most of 1917 and ‘18 there were reports about a shortage of paper – caused by paper produced in the Northern Hemisphere being directed to the war effort and a lack of shipping. This was largely a concern for newspapers and magazines which reduced their number of pages or ceased publication. Paper was also less available for: packing fruit for market; correspondence from government departments (they would not acknowledge receipt of letters or wrote on half size paper); taking home meat from the butcher. A satirical column carried by many newspapers (maybe they weren’t being so careful with what they published) advised that:
Confetti will be omitted from weddings, and old cuffs and collars will be utilised as post cards.
Those sending presents to the Axams managed much better substitutes on a range of saved paper.
This article was first published in the Ephemera Newsletter no.18, of April 2023. If you want to read about ephemera and support the Ephemera society, then join the Society here.