Thursday, December 15, 2011

Old book of Christmas carols and a musical postcard

The colorful illustration on the cover of "Treasure Chest of Christmas Songs and Carols"1 is what first caught my eye at a local flea market.

The 32-page staplebound book was copyrighted in 1936 by Treasure Chest Publications Inc. of New York, N.Y.2

The book includes 26 traditional carols, including "Away in the Manger" (first published in Philadelphia) and "O Little Town of Bethlehem" (written by an Episcopal priest from Philadelphia).

The most interesting thing I learned from this songbook regards the history of a well-known alternate word for Christmas -- Noel.

In "Treasure Chest of Christmas Songs and Carols," a carol in listed in the table of contents as "The First Nowell." I can't recall coming across that spelling before, but the song is actually listed under "The First Nowell" in Wikipedia, with "The First Noël" as the alternate title.

Wikipedia, in a separate entry, notes the following etymology of the word:
Noel (also spelled Nowell or Noël) is an alternate word for Christmas. The word comes from Middle English noel, which derives from the Old French word noël and its more common form naël. The English spelling "Noël" is taken directly from modern French, which also derives from the Old French. The ultimate Latin origin is the phrase nātālis (diēs), "(day) of birth".
Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn adds some more about the history of Nowell/Noel/Noël -- including a blunder by Jay Leno -- in this December 2006 blog entry.

Today's second piece of ephemera is this oversized -- 8⅛ inches by 6 inches -- postcard featuring a boy and a burn barrel.

This postcard was a gift from my great-grandmother to my uncle at Christmas 1958, and it is (or it was) a playable record!

Stated on the back of the postcard is the following:
  • The Singing Postcard, Phonoscope
  • Plays 200 times perfectly
  • Normal Record 45 RPM, White Christmas by Irving Berlin
  • Audiomaster S.A. - Marterey 36 - Lausanne
  • Printed in Switzerland
  • All rights of the Manufacturer and of the owner of the recorded work reserved. Unauthorised public performance, broadcasting and copying prohibited.
If you're intrigued, check out this in-depth early history of phono postcards by Rainer E. Lotz of Germany (who focuses mostly on 78 rpm postcards). It's a fascinating and well-done piece.

And for more great reading about Christmas carol songbooks, check out "Revisiting WGAL Christmas Carol Sheets and Choral Concerts" by Blake Stough on Preserving York.

1. If you're interested in this 75-year-old book of carols, there are plenty of cheap copies available on Amazon as of this writing.
2. Treasure Chest Publication's other books included "Treasure Chest of World-Wide Songs," "Treasure Chest of Gems for Piano," "Treasure Chest of Cowboy Songs," "Treasure Chest of Home Spun Songs" and -- my favorite title -- "Treasure Chest of Darn Fool Ditties."

1 comment:

  1. I've received two of the Phonoscope Christmas musical postcards in recent years. I wish I had a turntable to hear them, even if they are scratchy!