Jewish Welfare Board Postcards -- An Update
by John G Sayers
Two years ago on this website, I set out the story and details known to me about Jewish Welfare Board postcards of World War I. A multi-topical series of cards, these impacted on Ocean Liner, Judaica, Military and Troopship collectors.
The hope was to learn more about the cards and any other Jewish Welfare Board ephemera that might be 'out there'. In the intervening two years, the outcome has been wonderful, and the objective of this article is to share the information that a number of collectors have sent to report their knowledge about this topic.
The first note was from a collector, Bob Swanson, who commented:
While doing a Google search, I noticed your article on the Ephemera Society website about Jewish Welfare Board picture postcards. As a collector of WW I material, I have been fascinated by these cards for many years. I have a website and some images uploaded to Flickr, that may be of interest regarding both the ships and the postcards for troopships in WW I.
Then I got an e-mail from Wilfred Bloom, another collector, who added more information:
I came across your article recently, and feel that I may be able to add a little to your comments about these fascinating postcards, which I have been collecting and studying for the past 8-10 years.
The only other source that I have found, where somebody has taken the time to detail their findings, is that of Swanson, who lists all the cards, so far known, as well as others which contribute to our understanding of the US naval side of the Great War. Among others, these series include the other Jewish Welfare Board issue, "HELLO -- JUST GOT BACK", the A-R-A series, and "THIS IS THE SHIP I CAME HOME ON" series, which includes many of the ships seen in the JWB series, and many others that are not included.
The JWB "HELLO - JUST GOT BACK" series is an important addition to the main series, showing just the ships/troopships only. The reason for this is that, while on BOTH JWB series, there is no printed area for the DATE, on the JUST GOT BACK series, the writer has often written a date of writing the postcard, or a postmark shows when it was mailed, and sometimes the writer includes the name of the vessel which brought him back from Europe.
This is important in addressing one or your questions: when were the JWB cards printed? The answer must be late 1918 or early 1919, remembering that the war ended on 11/11/1918. I tend to go with the latter date, since the postcards were printed in a hurry. To this end, I have identified six or seven DIFFERENT printings of the "HELLO" JWB cards. This also answers another of your questions: why was there no censorship of these cards? The answer is that after 11/11/1918, there was no further need for censorship.
The only German ships in your list which did not have printed JWB cards were CINCINNATI/ USS COVINGTON and KONIG WILHELM II/MADAWASKA. The Navy must have had a reason to retain the name of the PRINZ FRIEDERICH WILHELM, although I cannot figure out why. In addition to your list, my collection has the following NON-JWB postcards (so far found) with identical designs :
AGAMEMNON, AQUITANIA, GEORGE WASHINGTON (used on 10/4/1920), LEVIATHAN (vertical and horizontal), MANCHURIA, MAURETANIA, MOUNT VERNON, and PRESIDENT GRANT (used 7/8/1919).
Many of the 57 different ship JWB cards in my collection appear in more than one format.
This depends on whether they have the "GREETINGS FROM..." or the "ISSUED BY..." message on the front/picture side, and whether they were printed in horizontal or vertical
form, OR BOTH.
So far, this is what I have found: Only the LEVIATHAN was printed in horizontal and vertical format with BOTH messages (4 cards); AGAMEMNON is printed vertically ONLY, with both messages on the front (2); the GENERAL GOETHALS is the ONLY other card vertically printed ("GREETINGS FROM...) = A TOTAL OF 7 CARDS.
ELEVEN SHIPS' cards are printed with BOTH "GREETINGS FROM..." and "ISSUED BY...". They are: AMERICA, FINLAND, GEORGE WASHINGTON, HARRISBURG, HURON, KROONLAND, MANCHURIA, MARTHA WASHINGTON, MONGOLIA, MOUNT VERNON, and POWHATAN = 22.
TWELVE SHIPS' CARDS are "ISSUED BY..." ONLY : AEOLUS, ANTIGONE, AQUITANIA, FRANCE, MAUI, MAURETANIA, MERCURY, OLYMPIC, PATRIA, POCOHONTAS, PRESIDENT GRANT, and SUSQUEHANNA = 12. In addition, these ONLY have "CO. REG. DIV." on the lower left of the reverse side.
THIRTY-ONE SHIPS' cards are "GREETINGS FROM ..." ONLY: ADRIATIC, ARIZONIAN, CALAMARES, DAKOTAN, DE KALB, GRAF WALDERSEE, GREAT NORTHERN, HENRY R MALLORY, IMPERATOR, IOWAN, KAISERIN AUGUSTE VICTORIA, LOUISVILLE, LUCKENBACH, MATSONIA, NANSEMOND, NIEUW AMSTERDAM, OHIOAN, ORIZABA, PANAMAN, PASTORES, PATRICIA, PLATTSBURG, PRINCESS MATOIKA, PRINZ FRIEDERICH WILHELM, RIJNDAM, ROTTERDAM, TROY, VON STEUBEN, WILHELMINA, ZEELANDIA, and ZEPPELIN = 31. These cards have "GOING TO CAMP ..." printed above "CO. REG. DIV." on the reverse side.
This is a total of 72 different cards. Swanson lists 60 ships that had cards (all types) issued through the JWB, although 3 of them (NORTHERN LIGHT, PRETORIA and PATRICK) have never been seen, at least not by me. Could he be confusing PATRICK with PATRICIA?
Regarding dates of use, these were mostly not stated by the writers. The earliest dates that appear in my collection are 3/30/1919 (AQUITANIA) and 3/31/1919 (MAUI), and the latest dates are 9/21/1919 (FRANCE) and 9/22/1919 (PRESIDENT GRANT). Many of these ships were actually decommissioned by the Navy at the end of September 1919. Four (4) of my non-JWB postcards are used, between 5/9/1919 (MOUNT VERNON) and 10/4/1920 (GEORGE WASHINGTON).
I hope that you will find these details of my collection useful in filling in some of the blanks, although you and I are surely not the only collectors of these postcards. Perhaps, if you include some of this data in your magazine, other collectors will weigh in with further details.
The third note, from Sergio Lugo, a collector and writer, was even more detailed, and added further information to collector knowledge:
Just read your article about the Jewish Welfare Board Ship Cards, after a friend pointed me to it. In answer to your questions and issues:
1. There were 72 JWB Ship cards. The ship cards are fully discussed in my 140 page book: THE JEWISH WELFARE BOARD: ITS FIRST WORLD WAR HISTORY, SHIP POST CARDS. POSTAL STATIONERY, AND WARTIME EPHEMERA: ISBN: 978-0-9828627-0-4; Library of Congress # 2010932150. Price = $35.00. The book is spiral bound so as to allow the mounting of the ship cards.
3. The JWB was the predecessor of today's Jewish Community Center's organization. It was part of the "Seven Servants" of WWI. I won't bore you with the details, but if you are interested, I have published 5 monographs on social welfare organizations of WWI, with 8 more in various stages of production. Of the five completed, 3 were "Seven Servants". Each of the monographs is $25.00
Towards the end of the First World War, the term 'united services organization' began making its appearance; I first ran across its use in about September 1918. The USO of World War II was the self same organization, this time comprised of six of the "Seven Servants") - namely the Salvation Army, the Knights of Columbus, the YMCA, the YWCA, the Salvation Army and the JWB. The First World War's American Library Association was replaced in the Second World War by the Traveller's Aid organization.
You're right, you never know where collecting leads. In fact, all of this resulted from one JWB card that I discovered in 2000.
In a subsequent note, Mr. Lugo added:
Several points of clarification. I noted the existence of 72 cards (2 of them I swear I saw, but have never seen again). Because of duplication, there were actually 56 (or is it 58) ships pictured. The scarcest I've ever run across (other then the two noted above) was the USS Goethals. My book points out that there were 296,000+ JWB cards printed during the war (info. found during research on the monograph; source noted therein). I have never been able to determine how many of these were ship cards.
I think you noted that there are two different salutations on different ship cards. I have never been able to ascertain who produced the cards without the JWB logo. I think I've got about 6 different ships. Free franking was available to the soldier on board ship or the debarkation point. If mailed anyplace else, the soldier had to pay the 2 cents rate for all troops in the U.S. I have never seen a stamped JWB ship card.
The histories of all the ships shown on the JWB cards can be found in the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. The only one that can't be is, as I recall, the SS France ship card (another scarce one). The book I wrote provides abbreviated versions of the DANF information, as supplemented by other sources. The Steuben ship card runs four pages; that ship led an interesting life. The JWB produced much other paper ephemera, as discussed in the monograph devoted to that organization. Scarcest of all is the Medusa, to be worn around the neck; JWB archives showed only 10,000 produced.
So there you are, Ephemera Society of America readers. Now you know probably everything that the postcard community has ever learned about Jewish Welfare Board cards. We owe an ocean of thanks to the preceding writers, to whom we have sent copies of this comprehensive Update article.
There's a series of postcards that is an interesting cross-collectible for those interested in one or more of (i) postcards (ii) Judaica, (iii) military history, (iv) First World War, or (v) ocean liners.
When the United States entered the First War in 1917, she seized several German liners which had been interned in the U.S. during the early days of the war, when the U.S. was neutral. When the U.S. declared war, those liners were converted into troopships, and were reportedly one of the principal reasons that the U.S. was able to put so many soldiers on the field in Europe so quickly.
Needless to say, there are postcards of these ships pre-internment, and postcards of them as troop transports. Of the latter, there is a series of cards which are specially printed with the name of the Jewish Welfare Board ("JWB"), which was apparently established early in 1917, when the U.S. entered the war. The front of the card carries the image and name of the ship and the caption "Greetings from the Jewish Welfare Board to Soldiers and Sailors of the U.S. Army and Navy" (Figure 1). On the back of the card, below the area for the message, is space for "Co." "Reg." and "Div." Some of the cards say, above this, "Going to Camp___" (Figure 2).
Some of the cards carry the mark on the front " ©Ed. Levick, N.Y". The Huron card says " © N. Y. Herald". The SS Troy and SS Orizaba cards show as ©Int. News Service. Some carry no publisher reference. Only one example is postally used. Some others carry messages, and addresses, and were without stamps because they were postage free.
I have no knowledge of how many ex-German ships are represented on these Jewish Welfare Board cards. I have several. The Allied liners are easy to spot, since something like the Mauretania shows as Mauretania. So all the Allied ships are straightforward, but for the German ships, renamed by the Americans, the task can be more challenging. That's why I was so pleased to find this information tabulated in a recently-acquired book ( NorddeutscherLloyd Bremen by Edwin Drechsel). Here's the 'translation' -
||First Transport Date
|| USS America*
||Oct 19, 1917
|| Jan 4, 1918
||Oct 19, 1917
|Friedrich der Grosse
|| Sept 8, 1917
||USS George Washington
||Dec 4, 1917
|| Nov 26, 1917
||Nov 12, 1917
|Kaiser Wilhelm II
|| Oct 19, 1917
|Konig Wilhelm II
||Nov 21, 1917
|| USS Mount Vernon*
||Oct 19, 1917
||USS Von Steuben
|| Oct 10, 1917
||USS Martha Washington*
||Feb 10, 1918
||Feb 10, 1918
||USS President Grant
||Dec 26, 1917
||USS President Lincoln
||Oct 19, 1917
|| Sept 8, 1917
||USS Princess Matoika*
||May 10, 1917
|Prinz Eitel Friedrich
||June 14, 1917
||Dec 14, 1917
||Dec 15, 1917
|* = known, in my collection
The Prinz Friedrich Wilhelm seems to be in a different category -- not renamed, and the card carries the original name of this German liner.
Although the Navy commissioned them as 'USS' the JWB Cards that I have caption them as 'S.S.' Further, some are in a vertical as well as horizontal format. In addition to these ex-German liners (those I have are marked with *), I have the following other Jewish Welfare Board ocean liner cards that were not former German liners:
- S.S. Matsonia
- S.S. Mauretania
- S.S. Olympic (Figure 3)
- S.S. Orizaba
- S.S. Troy
- S.S. Nansemond
- S.S. Finland
- S. S. Kroonland
- S.S. Plattsburg (ex-New York)
Initially I wondered whether the cards were provided during or at the end of the war. The message on the Kroonland card, with a U.S. Army cancellation and no stamp ("Soldier's Mail, No postage necessary if mailed on boat or dock"), has a message addressed to a person in Elmira, NY, that says, "Dear Folks -- A little view of the boat we came over on. Will write letter later. Love to all." The card also carries the information: "Going to Camp: Mills Long I. Co: B; Reg: 1st Div. 1st U.S. Engrs."
So where were the censors? Wouldn't this qualify as sensitive military information?
More scarce than the JWB cards, are the ones without the JWB information (Figure 4). So far the only ones that I have been able to find are:
- SS President Grant
- SS George Washington
- SS Leviathan
- SS Agamemnon
There are other JWB cards that aren't ocean liner related. At a recent show in the U.S., I encountered a card with an image of the interior of a JWB dance hall, and others of pictures of JWB buildings at military camps (Figure 5). Yet another was a composite of a number of buildings at various camps.
Clearly this was the First War predecessor to the USO program in the Second World War. Was the USO consciously modeled on the JWB activities? This is really interesting historically and militarily. So what do you do when an avenue of research – such as this one - is leading you away from your primary interest – in this case, ocean liners in war service? The answer is that you buy what you think is a representative card from that avenue, and then close it off to return to the primary search! So that's why there's a JWB camp building among my JWB ocean liner cards!
Like so many other postcard projects, by its nature this one has to be a 'Work in Progress' as more cards are found and more variations encountered.
Figure 1: SS Agamemnon (ex-Kaiser Wilhelm II) JWB vertical card
Figure 2: Back of JWB card showing Camp reference
Figure 3: SS Olympic (White Star Line) horizontal JWB card
Figure 4: Same image as Figure 1, but no JWB reference
Figure 5: Jewish Welfare Board building
Figure 6: SS Matsonia horizontal JWB card