Employees of Westclox
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  • Ruth Spayer

Birthday Greetings and Hankies


As most of you know, I’ve spent a little over a year scanning and reviewing more than 50 years worth of Tick Talk Magazine - the monthly employee magazine published and distributed in-house to all Westclox employees. These little books have a wealth of information in them, but the sections devoted to departmental “news” have been of great interest to our visitors. Each department had its own designated “reporter” who saw to it that the latest gossip was duly reported and recorded for posterity. Some of these tidbits included birthdays, engagements, marriages, promotions and transfers, trips, illn

sses, deaths and the occasional inside joke about a fellow employee. Many visitors have enjoyed these tidbits about themselves and their friends and relatives, often exclaiming that they never knew that about Mom, Dad, Grandma or Grandpa.

As I have helped people search for this information, the most common items were birthday wishes, followed the next month by thanks for the good wishes. Among the ladies, these usually included thanks for cards and gifts received. Recently, a light bulb went on in my head concerning the cards and gifts. I remembered that most often those birthday cards had a handkerchief tucked inside as a small gift. I remember, after my own mother’s death, finding a good many of those hankies – many still tucked inside their original greeting cards. (I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you have come across similar caches of hankies, and wondered what they were all about.) Sadly, my sister and I discarded most of the cards as we lovingly divided up the hankies. Twenty years later, I still have those hankies, some of which are now displayed in the Westclox Museum.

Why, you might ask, did they put hankies in the cards? First you have to understand something of the era in which these gifts were given. In the 1930’s, 40’, 50’s, 60’s and into the 70’s, nearly every woman had a handkerchief in her pocket or handbag at all times. (Men also carried handkerchiefs.) Women’s hankies were usually decorative as well as functional. Floral prints were quite popular, as were solid white or colored squares with delicate crocheted lace edges. Many ladies crocheted these edges on hankies as a hobby, so they always had a little gift on hand to tuck into a birthday card for a friend. Hankies were readily available for sale in lingerie departments or variety stores at very reasonable prices – often less than $1 each.

Lest you think that these hankies were only something that was stuffed in a drawer and never used, I must tell you that was not the case. Those that were simply “saved” were usually of a special design or from a special friend or simply not needed at the time. You see, these hankies were definitely used, laundered, ironed and reused many times over and over. I know many of the youngest readers of this column are probably thinking, “Eeew!” at the thought of laundering a square of cotton that has been used by someone for nose-blowing! And, who irons anymore?

Ah, yes, times have changed. Today we are a more disposable society. The traditional hankies have been replaced with paper facial tissues. Even traditional paper birthday cards are being edged out by digital greetings, and if a paper card is sent today, it might have a scratch-off lottery ticket tucked inside. So, the birthday hankies in our display will serve as yet another reminder of days gone by and friendships formed at Westclox.

“You never know what you might find at the Westclox Museum!”

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