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From All of Us: 1921

From All of Us: 1921

Washington, D.C. "Dickey Christmas tree, 1921." Our annual holiday card featuring the family of lawyer Raymond Dickey, who has a decade's worth of Christmases preserved in the archives of the National Photo Co. View full size.


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Shorpy on TV

I did a double-take during last night's Daily Show with Jon Stewart. An altered version of this photo appeared during a segment entitled Obama's Socialist Christmas Ornament Program. Either it's a remarkable coincidence or someone at the Daily Show is reading Shorpy.

Old Clothes?

This is one of those photos you can look at in hi-def and notice more and more. This family is obviously prosperous -- it's a huge tree and elaborately decorated, if not in the current shape fashion,also note the train set-so WTH- Mom's in her oldest skirt with stuff crammed in her pocket,junior has holes in his stockings and something safety-pinned to the front of his shirt and the future glamour editor looks decidedly unglamorous. Even given the limitations of flash photography at the time, these people don't look happy,and even in 1921 people had plenty of experience with Kodaks and snapshots and knew how to smile for a picture. Here Mom looks deranged, Dad looks like he's threatening the terrified looking child on his knee, and the two older kids look like they can't wait to get out of there. Merry Christmas!

Not only does he smoke in the house,

but he can't put it down for the Christmas photo.

I am assuming that the Dickey family had these made but didn't send them out in Christmas cards ...after all the invention of the refrigerator magnet was decades in the future.

Tree Farming

I'm not sure how long Christmas tree farming has been a business, but I suspect it wasn't during this family's lifetime. These days it can be profitable business, but while it isn't exactly regulated, with rules as to the sort of trees that can be grown, there are preferred types. According to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, the preferred types are White Pine, White Spruce, Scots Pine, Balsam Fir, Blue Spruce and Fraser Fir. The trees are pruned for shape and to increase foliage density.

I suspect that none of this happened to this tree. Someone probably just went out into the woods and cut down the scraggly runt trees that didn't look like they'd ever amount to anything went it came to lumbering. Then they shipped them off to the city where they'd cost a pretty penny to the buyers and supplement the lumber company's bottom line. I'm guessing these folks got the best of what was available and were damned pleased to get it.

I'll be darned.

After reading the tip about Alice growing up to be an editor, I pulled out my trusty copy of Seventeen Magazine from November 1946 from my desk drawer (doesn't everyone have one stored there?)...and sure enough, there she was! What a cool connection.

Connections, connections...

Alice probably edited the Glamour magazine seen hanging in the newsstand in last week's "Zines":

It's amazing how things here are connected.

Tree Full of Heirlooms

Let's hope the kids of these kids are still putting the same beautiful ornamants on their trees this Christmas.

"Village of the Damned," anyone?

Even with an explanation, those kids are pretty creepy.

Clouded Pupils

Why are the pupils of the two bottom kids clouded? Maybe the shutter speed was just slow enough to get a blink in there?

[The "clouded" or "zombie" look is a characteristic of flash powder photography, where there was usually no mechanism for synchronizing the exposure and flash. The photo catches the subjects' eyes both open and closed because the exposure is slightly longer than it needs to be. With the advent of flashbulbs and electrical synchronization of shutter and flash, the exposure generally ends before the flash triggers the blink reflex. In the early days of "flashlight" photography, shutter speed wasn't a factor because there was no shutter, or the shutter wasn't used. The lens cap was removed from the camera, the flash was ignited, then the lens cap was replaced. - Dave]

Good Luck!

I think I've spotted the Christmas Pickle!

Buety is In the eye of the beholder

I don't think there is such a thing as a bad looking Christmas tree. I am often amazed by comments made to the contrary. Nowadays so many times the word "tradition" leaves little to the imagination. Some of the most memorable Christmas trees of my past looked a lot less ornate than this tree by far but they were perfect on our eyes. Back in the early 60's we used to string cranberries and popcorn to put on our tree.

[Something tells me you haven't seen Buety lately. - Dave]

Beginning to See the Lights

I think the "Viking boat ornament" may have been a balloon with a sail, as in a Jules Verne illustration.

Thanks, Dave, I now see the lights—how could I have missed them?

Who is that man in the ornament?

Look at the silver ball over Alice's head. Looks like a man seated with a dog.


I recognize quite a few of these glass ornaments from our own trees of my childhood.

We had some of the Santa ones and quite a number of the various balls. As well as birds with the spun glass tails. My favorite was always the crane with the long neck and beak. They clipped onto the branch on a spring.

Over the years we lost many of them and the last went when a friend, well known for his clumsiness) was helping put up the tree and sat on the box of ornaments.

Beautiful photo!

I love this picture. The Christmas tree looks as though it's been lovingly decorated by everybody in the family without notions of "the perfect tree." As someone who is (not by choice) alone on Christmas, I wish I could join them!

Charlie Brown Christmas tree

I still get flack over this straggly tree, but it remains my favorite, because I took my three-year-old son into the woods and he helped me select cut, haul, erect and decorate it.

Boat Ornaments!

I love the viking boat ornaments! I feel inspired to make some for my own tree.

Alice Dickey Thompson

Its a bit hard to believe from this photo, but the teenager on the right, young Miss Alice Dickey, is destined to be the Editor and Publisher of Seventeen Magazine and Executive Editor of Glamour Magazine. I'm still hunting for a later photo of her.

Some Links from the web:
Time Magazine, 1949
Time Magazine, 1950
Women's periodicals in the United States: consumer magazines

Washington Post, Apr 2, 1940

Rites for Raymond B. Dickey,
Lawyer, to Be Held Tomorrow

Funeral rites for Raymond B. Dickey, 62, dean of faculty of the Washington Chapter of the American Institute of Banking and a prominent attorney, will be at 2 p.m. tomorrow at Deal funeral home, 4812 Georgia avenue northwest. Burial will be in Cedar Hill Cemetery
A native of Harpers Ferry, W. Va., Mr. Dickey was educated at Georgetown University where he was awarded an LL.D. degree in 1899 and his LL.M. the following year.

At the time of his death he was general counsel for the Civilian Conservation Corps. For many years he taught the bills and notes course at the banking institute.

With his son, J. Maxwell Dickey, he maintained offices in the National Press Building. He made his home at 1702 Kilbourne street northwest.
Besides his son, J. Maxwell Dickey, he leaves his wife, Mrs. Rose M. Dickey; two other sons, Granville E., chief statistician of the Civilian Conservation Corps, and Raymond D. Dickey, of Arlington County, a public relations counsel; and a daughter Mrs. Alice D. Thompson, of California and New York City, the editor of Glamour Magazine.

According to the 1920 Census, those pictured here are:

  • Raymond B., 43
  • Rose M., 40
  • Alice E., 13
  • John M., 9
  • Raymond R., 3

The census also lists an older son, Granville E., 18.
[Note: ages are based on those listed in 1920 census plus one.]

Modern Tree Tastes

That tree is fabulous.

I think back in the day, especially if you didn't live somewhere fairly close to a supply of ideal, cone-shaped firs or cedars, you pretty much settled for whatever healthy-looking pine or cedar-like tree you could find.

Also, keep in mind that today's Christmas tree farms prune the trees every year to make sure they maintain the ideal cone shape. Let 'em run wild and they wouldn't be so perfect, and probably more sparsely limbed.

When I was a kid ('70's), before there were any tree farms around, we would just go out in some of our or a relative's woods & find a young juniper & pull it out of the woods.

Love this tree

This is more than a Christmas tree. This is Christmas tree as art installation. I love the fact that it nearly takes over the room and that there is room to breathe between the branches that allows the ornaments and ropes of glass balls to be draped and displayed in all their glory.

This is the kind of tree my grandparents always had--very big and wide and decorated with the exact same ornaments. The only thing missing is Angel Hair (was it actually fiber glass?). My grandmother went through a big angel hair period before she moved on to tinsel.

Too bad all the trees nowadays look exactly the same-perfectly shaped and boring, and too thick to truly decorate and dress to the nines.

Christmas Vacation

This is definitely a Clark Griswold tree. I only wonder where cousin Eddie is.

Ornaments of days gone by

Christmas tree shots like this always throw me into a temporal disconnect; these are the exact kind of ornaments I grew up with in the 1950s.

And I'll bet this tree looked fantastic in color and in normal, rather than exploding flash powder light.

Reflections on an Ornament

Do you have a bigger version of the bauble above the girl's head? I'd love to see the rest of this room (and maybe the photographer?).

The smell of Christmas

Ah, what wonderful holiday memories; the aroma of evergreen needles and Daddy's cigar smoke in my face.


It's spruces that are conical. This looks like pine.

Perfection is relative

I've observed that in old photos of plain and poorly shaped women as well as poorly shaped Christmas trees, many viewers raise the subject of appearance. We had trees like this when I was young, usually because Dad always got one that was way too tall and we had to cut off to fit it in the room. We had one as recently as about 20 years ago that looked like a giant tumbleweed, rather shapeless and sparse. However, in defense of such trees, my son pointed out that such spareness of greenery made the ornaments much more important, visible and spotlighted the outstanding beauty of decorations such as these, while the lush, bushy trees often obscure the ornaments. I notice that this year there is a "Charlie Brown Tree" for sale which is basically a very sparse branch on a thin, wispy trunk with only one ornament on the single branch, as in the cartoon. As kids, we loved our skimpy, roundish, scanty Christmas tree (just as God made it) and found it magically beautiful. Perhaps growing up and becoming "sophisticated" makes us see faults instead of beauty? Just look at these magnificent ornaments. May your best ever Christmas holiday be exceeded this year. May Shorpy continue to gain fans and prosper.

Did a bill collector just enter the room?

Again, a scrawny tree with no lights. Doesn't look like a happy family, and what could they be staring at?

[Look again. There are lights all over this tree. - Dave]

Different trees

Wow. It never ceases to amaze me how different Christmas trees looked back in the day. I don't mean the decorations, I mean the actual shape of the tree. Is it because they were just chopped from somewhere by the homeowners? Or maybe there is a species that has been developed for mass consumption today? I don't mean any disparagement on Mr. Dickey's tree because it looks like it was lovingly decorated, which is the whole idea. It's just that the shape is so strange to me and I've seen it in other pictures of that era that have been posted here that I'm curious.

Conical Christmas

This photo makes me wonder - When did the current "pointy triangle" Christmas tree become popular?

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