Category: thrifting

Deciphering century-old postcard drama

I have a habit of falling down rabbit holes. This week it was deciphering a 100-year-old postcard in old German script that a friend of a friend posted on Instagram:

What nosy person can resist reading a tiny message hidden under a postcard stamp a hundred years ago?? I could make out a little bit — last night, please please, sad — but I thought seeing the rest of the postcard up close would help me get a better feeling for the writer’s hand. I asked Pamela to send me an image of the full postcard so I could get a little closer, and she obliged.

deciphering and translating handwriting on an old german postcard

I spent a good two hours trying to figure it out, using a book of old German handwriting examples to guide me. I made some progress, but only solved about half of the puzzle. Contextual clues can help you a TON with deciphering old handwriting, so my knowledge of German really helped. But the letterforms of old German handwriting like this, called Kurrent — or the even weirder Sütterlin — are so vastly different from modern English letterforms that I made a lot of wrong turns and had to backtrack. For example, I at first read the city as Wien — German for Vienna — but she determined it actually says Hier — here, meaning the same city! Also, the name on the address, Gretel Schardt, is written in a slightly more French script than the rest of the postcard, presumably for fanciness.

Then I happened to go to a hand-lettering and calligraphy meetup here in Berlin just for fun, and one of the attendees turned out to be studying old forms of German handwriting. Jackpot! With Petra‘s help, I was able to achieve a nearly full transcription.

deciphering and translating handwriting on an old german postcard

Here is the German transcription:

Mein Liebling!
Bist du mir noch böse weil ich Dich
Gestern Abend so lange habe warten
lassen? Es tut mir so leit (sic) daß ich
nicht früher bei dir war, falls ich mir
ein wenig Ahnung darum gehabt, dann
hätte ich mich viel mehr geeilt. Gestern
Abend war ich nach langer langer
Zeit auch mal wieder so recht traurig,
und bin es auch Heute morgen noch.
Ich umarme und K dich inniglich. Empfange
viel tausend herz[?]. Grüße [many initials]

And here is an English translation:

My Dear!
Are you still mad at me because I left you waiting for so long? I’m so sorry that I wasn’t with you earlier. If I had known I would have hurried much more. Last night after a long, long time I was so very sad again, and I still am this morning. I hug and kiss you closely. I’m sending you thousands of hearts. [And then who knows what the initials translate to!]

And under the stamp:

Gestern Abend
stand mir
das Weinen
näher als [?]
[?]. Mach
doch bitte bitte nicht
mehr so ein traurig
Geschehen. Ich kann
es nicht sehen.

And in English:

Last night the crying came closer [??]. Please please don’t make such a sad event. I can’t see it.

wiesbaden marriage recordSo dramatic! It really made me want to know whatever happened to those crazy kids. Did Gretel ever forgive the nameless writer? The date on the postmark was removed with the stamp, so we don’t have an exact date for this postcard, but from the handwriting and what I can see of the mark, I believe the postcard was written in the decade of 1910 and was posted from Wiesbaden.

Thanks to my Family Tree Magazine connections, I did a little digging for Gretel Schardt of Wiesbaden. No good results came up on Ancestry.com or FamilySearch, but then I remembered Gretel can be a nickname for Margarete in German. A new search returned a woman named Maria Margareta Katharina Aloisia Schardt, born 1895 in Wiesbaden, who married Peter Josef Jung there in 1921. (Click on the photo at right to enlarge the scan of the marriage record.) Could these be our lovebirds?? I hope they made it.

You can see more examples of German handwriting here, learn Kurrent yourself, or try Stephen P. Morse’s autotranscriber.

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