Posted in U.S.A. - Pennsylvania

Christmas Postcards: Allentown 1912

This postcard was mailed on the afternoon of Christmas Eve 1912 from Allentown, Pennsylvania, to the (even today) very rural Richland Center in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, an area featuring iconic red barns. The message offers “Many good wishes for a Merry Christmas is the wish of your friend Ida.”

The picture side of the embossed card features a poinsettia and a quote from Charles Dickens:

Many merry Christmases
Many happy New Years.
Unbroken friendships,
great accumulations of
cheerful recollections and
affections on earth, and
heaven for us all

Posted in U.S.A. - Michigan

Christmas Postcards: Detroit 1911

It is Christmas Eve in Thailand (we are 12 hours ahead of the Central Time Zone in the U.S.) and I just finished putting together a lengthy article about Santa Claus’s Christmas Eve journey around the world for my A Stamp A Day blog. Please have a look if you are interested.

I still have a few Christmas-related postcards I would like to share during this holiday season. I really like the vintage cards, although I don’t have very many of them. This card was mailed after midnight on December 21, 1911, traveling from Detroit, Michigan, to St. Louis, Missouri. The message reads:

Dear Mother,
I wish you many Happy returns of the day.
With love,

It seems somewhat formal for a Christmas card to one’s mother. The picture side features a Madonna and Child image along with the simple inscription, “A Merry Christmas”.

Posted in Hungary

Christmas Postcards: Pély 2016

I received several Christmas postcards in late 2016 and early 2017 as the result of joining a swap club on Facebook. This postcard arrived in an envelope posted in Pély is a village in Heves County (Heves megye) in northern Hungary. This is a geographically diverse area; its northern part is mountainous (the Mátra and Bükk are the two highest mountain ranges in Hungary), while at south it includes a part of the Great Hungarian Plain. From south it is bordered by Lake Tisza, the largest artificial lake in Hungary.

While I much prefer postcards mailed with the stamps on them, the envelope this one was inside contained four nice stamps from Hungary. The oldest was issued on June 30, 2000, as part of the nation’s Antique Furniture series of definitive stamps. In the German-language Michel catalogue, the 30-forint stamp was assigned the number 4609 and features a chair made by Károly Nagy in 1935. It was printed using offset lithography and is perforated 11½ x 12.

The second stamp is another definitive in the Antique Furniture series, a 10-forint stamp released in 2001 and featuring a 17th century chair. It, too, was printed by lithography but is perforated 11½ x 12½ and has the Michel catalogue number 4551II.

The 85-forint stamp on the envelope was released on May 3, 2013 (Michel #5631). It pictured the Votive Church and Cathedral of Our Lady of Hungary (Szegedi dóm or Fogadalmi templom), a twin-spired church in Szeged. It lies on Dóm square beside the Dömötör tower. Construction began in 1913, but due to the outbreak of the First World War, it was not completed until 1930. The church serves as the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Szeged–Csanád.

Finally, Michel #5783 commemorates Zsolnay, or formally Zsolnay Porcelánmanufaktúra Zrt (Zsolnay Porcelain Manufactory Private Limited). This is a Hungarian manufacturer of porcelain, tiles, and stoneware. The company introduced the eosin glazing process and pyrogranite ceramics. It was established by Miklós Zsolnay in Pécs, Hungary, in 1853. The 270-forint stamp was printed using offset lithography, perforated 12½ x 12, and issued on July 3, 2015.

Mailed from Pély on November 10, 2016, the envelope enclosing the postcard arrived in Phuket on November 26.

Posted in U.S.A. - Illinois

Christmas Postcards: Chicago 1917

Illinois's flag from 1915-1969 Most of my vintage Christmas postcards bear extremely short messages and this one is no exception:

Best wishes to you for a Merry Christmas”

What I found most interesting is the slogan postmark. Sent from Chicago, Illinois, at 11:00 the on Christmas Eve morning, some ten months following the United States’ entry into World War I and just over two weeks after the nation declared war on Austria-Hungary on December 7, the cancellation reads:

Food will win the war. Don’t waste it.

The design on the picture side is another embossed one, featuring two poinsettias and a framed image of a snow-covered church and home along with the simple inscription, “Best Christmas Wishes.”

I like to include appropriate flags with my postcard and stamp articles at, at first glance, you might recognize the one above as the State Flag of Illinois. This is, however, a previous version, including the central elements of the State Seal which had been adopted in 1868 and not including the word ILLINOIS. The original version of the flag was adopted in 1915 as the result of a campaign started by Ella Park Lawrence in 1912. She had been unsuccessful as state regent of the Daughters of the American Revolution but continued to lobby members of the Illinois General Assembly. On April 1, 1914, Lawrence sent a letter to every Illinois chapter of the DAR announcing a flag design contest with the winner receiving a prize of $25. Thirty-five entries were received with that of Lucy Derwent becoming the official state banner on July 6, 1915.

Illinois Centennial flag, 1918
Illinois Centennial flag, 1918

This flag was replaced in 1918 with a design by Wallace Rice to mark Illinois’s first 100 years of statehood. This flag had three horizontal bands of equal width alternating white, blue, white. It was charged with 21 stars along the edge of the hoist. There were 10 blue stars in the upper white band and 10 in the lower white band, representing the 10 northern and 10 southern states at the time of Illinois’ statehood in 1818. The center blue band had one large, white star for the state of Illinois itself.

 In the 1960s, Chief Petty Officer Bruce McDaniel petitioned to have the name of the state added to the flag. He noted that many of the people he served with during the Vietnam War did not recognize the banner. Governor Richard B. Ogilvie signed the addition to the flag into law on September 17, 1969, and the new flag was designed by Mrs. Sanford Hutchinson and became the official flag on July 1, 1970.

Posted in Estonia

Christmas Postcards: Pärnu 2016

I love receiving postcards covered with stamps, particularly when they are colorful as are most Christmas stamps. I received this one from Tina in Estonia in late December 2016, having been mailed on the 7th from the Pärnu, a popular summer holiday resort town on an inlet of the Baltic Sea’s Gulf of Livonia in the southwestern portion of the country. The card bears a total of six stamps — three Christmas stamps and three definitives.

Perona (Alt-Pernau in German and Vana-Pärnu in Estonian) was founded by the bishop of Ösel–Wiek circa 1251, suffered heavily under pressure of the concurrent town, and was finally destroyed around 1600. Another town, Embeke (lNeu-Pernau or Uus-Pärnu) was founded by the Livonian Order, who began building an Ordensburg nearby in 1265. The latter town, then known by the German name of Pernau, was a member of the Hanseatic League and an important ice-free harbor for Livonia. The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth took control of town between 1560–1617; the Poles and Lithuanians fought the Swedes nearby in 1609. Sweden took control of the town during the 16th-century Livonian War, but it was subsequently taken by the Russian Empire in the 1710 Capitulation of Estonia and Livonia and the 1721 Treaty of Nystad, following the Great Northern War. It belonged to Imperial Russian Governorate of Livonia then. The city is occasionally referred to as Pyarnu, an incorrect reverse-transliteration from Russian Пярну.

The town became part of independent Estonia in 1918 following World War I.

Aerial photo of Pärnu in Estonia. Photo taken by Kristian Pikner on May 30, 2016. Used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

The city was occupied by the Soviet Red Army along with the rest of Estonia in 1940 during World War II, and its German population left the town. It was then occupied by Germany from 1941 until 1944 before it was reoccupied by the Soviet Union as part of the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic from 1944-1991. During the Great Northern War, the University of Dorpat (Tartu) was relocated to Pernau from 1699–1710. The university has a branch campus in Pärnu today (1,000 students in the 2004/2005 school year).

Majority of the tourists in Pärnu are Finns, Swedes and Russians. In 1837, a tavern near the beach was made into a bathing establishment. The establishment accommodated 5–6 bathrooms that provided hot seawater baths in summer and operated as a sauna in winter. The wooden building was burnt down in the course of World War I. In 1927, the present stone building of Pärnu Mud Baths was erected at the same site. Since 1996 Pärnu has been known as Estonia’s Summer Capital.

Estonia – Scott #556 (2006)

Since 2015, Pärnu has hosted the annual Weekend Festival, the largest dance music festival in the Nordic and Baltic region. Stages are headlined by DJs from across the electronic dance music spectrum, with audiovisual support. Some of the past and upcoming artists to perform include Martin Garrix, David Guetta, Avicii, Steve Aoki, The Chainsmokers, Tiësto, Armin van Buuren, Hardwell, Robin Schulz, Afrojack, deadmau5, Knife Party and many more.

Pärnu is also known for its seawall. According to legend, if a couple holds hands while journeying along the wall and kisses at its endpoint they will stay together forever.

Estonia – Scott #717 (2012)
Estonia – Michel #877 (2016)

The postcard is franked with six Estonian stamps, three of which are Christmas stamps. The oldest is Scott #556, a 4.40-Estonian kroon (0.28 euro cents) stamp issued on November 22, 2006, picturing Santa Claus skiing across small snow dunes.. Next, is Scott #717, a 45-euro cent stamp released on November 22, 2012, also showing a skiing Santa. For a change, we get a gingerbread star on Michel #877 which appeared on November 18, 2016, with a value of 65 euro cents. Three definitive stamps bisect the center of the postcard with two copies of the 5-euro cent yellow Post Horn (Michel #863) from May 19, 2016, and one of Scott #560 released on January 17, 2007, denominated at 0.30 Estonian kroon (2 euro cents) picturing an ox-eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare).

The postcard picture side has a wonderful Nordic painting of elves hitching a sleigh to be pulled by a horse. Are these Santa’s helpers at the North Pole? By the way, the legend on the card — Imelisi püly — means “Wonderful walk!”, not “Merry Christmas” as I’d assumed for the past two years. “Merry Christmas” in Estonian is häid jõule.


Posted in U.S.A. - New York

Christmas Postcards: Brooklyn 1907

I began Christmas early this year, having decided to post (almost) an entire month of articles devoted to holiday stamps on my A Stamp A Day blog. Day 8 was a the longest yet (more than 5,700 words) about the history and traditions of the Christmas tree and I’ll soon begin work on today’s post which will deal with ornaments and other decorations. Being a Sunday and a rare day off (November was possibly my busiest month ever!), it’s the perfect time to initiate a Christmas postcards series as well. However, the postcard articles will be much, much shorter than those dealing with the stamps and the subjects thereon.

While Christmas cards are becoming more and more common here in Thailand (New Year’s cards being predominate in this Buddhist country) and I receive a fair amount from overseas each year, Christmas postcards are quite few and far between. I received several a couple of years ago as a result of joining a swap club on Facebook but I have yet to see any in 2018 thus far. However, postcards with a holiday theme were quite common in the late 19th century until the 1950s. While I don’t usually seek out vintage cards, sometimes I stumble across something i like. Thus, I now have a small but growing collection from the early years of the 20th century.

My oldest Christmas postcard is the only one I own that is actually postmarked on Christmas Day itself. The silver-colored card has an embossed twig of holly and berries above a painted winter scene of a farmhouse and barn with the simple message “A Merry Christmas” in red. The card bears no indication of publisher but says that it was “Printed in Germany.” Bearing a Brooklyn, New York, postmark, it was mailed at 10 a.m. on December 25, 1907, to an address within the same city. The message reads:

A Merry Christmas and a bright and Happy New Year to you and all the family is the sincerest wish of your loving friend.

Posted in Germany

Front-Wheel Drive Motorcycle: The 1922 Megola Sport

In philately a maximum card (also known as a maxi-card, or maxicard) is a postcard with a postage stamp placed on the picture side of the card where the stamp and card match or are in “maximum concordance”. The cancellation or postmark is usually related to the image on the front of the card and the stamp. Not every country issues maximum cards (i.e. USA does not) and some who do (Germany, for example) have only a limited number of releases every year whereas others issue maximum cards for every stamp (such as Australia). The collecting of maximum cards is known as maximaphily.

I enjoy picking up maximum cards whenever one strikes my interest but I still don’t have very many in my collection. A recent purchase was a set of four cards bearing German semi-postal stamps. The stamps were issued on April 12, 1983, and portray historic motorcycles. Each included a surtax beyond the regular denomination which raised money for the benefit of young people. My favorite of these was the 1922 Megola Sport on the 80-pfennig + 40-pfennig value (Scott #B607). Not only is the motorcycle quite striking in appearance but it featured an unusual design element — front-wheel drive.

A consortium of three German engineers — Hans Meixner, Cockerell (who originally spelled his name Gockerell) and Otto Landgraf — founded in Munich in 1921, Megola got its name by combining the first two letters of each of their surnames. Cockerell had designed a motorcycle in 1920 , powered by a three-cylinder rotary engine located within the rear wheel. As plans to commercialize this venture progressed, the engine was replaced with a five-cylinder model and Cockerell hit upon the novel idea of locating the engine in the front wheel instead.

Megola motorcycle, photographed by Hans Martin on March 18th, 2007, at Traffic Section of Deutsches Museum, Munich.
Megola motorcycle, photographed by Hans Martin at Traffic Section of Deutsches Museum, Munich, on March 18th, 2007,

This wasn’t the first attempt at a front-wheel drive motorcycle. British firm Radco had produced an abortive prototype in 1919. Cockerell’s was the first “functional” design, with that adjective decidedly belonging in quotations. Locating the powertrain within the front wheel conveniently sidestepped the problem of transferring power to a turning wheel. It was hardly a perfect solution, however: The spokes are laced directly to the crankcase so there is no transmission  and it is a single-speed machine. There is no clutch, either, which makes riding the Megola a particularly challenging proposition.

The engine contained five cylinders with side-mounted valves, each of which displaced 128cc, with a bore/stroke of 52x60mm, and a total displacement of 640 cc (39 cu in). The 5 cylinders rotated around the front axle at 6x the wheel speed; thus while the cylinders were at maximum of 3600rpm the front wheel was turning at 600rpm, or roughly 60 mph (given the wheel diameter). A hand-controlled butterfly valve was located in the hollow crankshaft to regulate throttle. Power output was a modest 14 bhp (10 kW) but was applied directly to the wheel. This arrangement produced a very low center of gravity and provided for excellent handling.

The engine was very flexible, lacking both a clutch and a transmission. Starting it required a person to either spin the front wheel while the bike was on its stand, or to push-start. The cylinders could be disassembled without having to remove all the wheel spokes in order to service the engine. The tires were tubed with the front inner-tube being a circular sausage shape rather than a complete doughnut-like torus shape, so that it could be changed without removing the wheel and engine. The box section frame contained the main fuel tank which fed by gravity a smaller tank mounted on the axle. The front suspension consisted of semi-elliptical springs.

1922 Mergola Sport
1922 Megola Sport

Engine lubrication was gravity-fed to the main-bearing housing from a 4-liter tank mounted on the left steering strut. A matching, gravity-feed fuel tank on the right side held a small supply of fuel, which has to be regularly hand-primed from the main fuel load inside the pressed-steel monocoque frame. A Bosch magneto fixed to the planetary-gear housing provided spark, and an oil pump driven via bevel gears off the magneto circulated oil thorough the engine. A single updraft carburetor was mounted on the right side of the wheel. Thanks to the engine’s front-and-center location, air-cooling the cylinders was not a concern.

The top speed was 85 km/h (52 mph) while later, sportier models were said to be capable of 140 km/h (88 mph). Megola manufactured two models: a Touring version with a sprung rear wheel, a semi-enclosed bucket seat and a mild, 14-bhp engine; and a stripped-down Sport variant with a rigid chassis, sprung saddle and a high-performance, 25-bhp engine. Believe it or not, the Sport was a semi-successful racing machine. Without any clutch, gearbox or front brake it wasn’t particularly useful for road racing, but it was well suited for oval-track racing on dirt or other low-traction surfaces. Megola Works racer Toni Bauhofer even defeated the BMW factory team to win the 1924 Schleizer-Dreieck national championship race.

Approximately 2,000 Megolas were built and sold between 1922 and 1936. Perhaps only 10 rideable examples remain. One was displayed at the Guggenheim Museum ‘Art of the Motorcycle’ exhibition in New York City. Apparently, these were quite a challenge to drive, having no clutch and a braking system that didn’t exactly work. The owner’s manual “included special instructions for navigating then-newfangled traffic lights, advising the Megola rider to ‘orbit’ until the light changed and he could depart the scene.” For more on the experience of riding a Megola Sport, have a look at this Motorcyclist blog post.

As for the stamp, it was designed by Heinz Schillinger. There were 4.977.000 copies printed using offset lithography, perforated 14, and it was valid for use until June 30, 2002.

Germany - Scott #B607 (1983)
Germany – Scott #B607 (1983)

Posted in Great Britain

Rowland Hill, Father of the Postage Stamp

Great Britain - Scott #1626 (1995) Royal Mail PHQ card
Great Britain – Scott #1626 (1995) Royal Mail PHQ card

October is National Stamp Collecting Month in the United States as well as The Philippines. This week is also International Letter Writing Week and Tuesday is designated as World Post Day. Thus, it’s an even better time than most to write postcards and letters and think about stamps. We have the man in the above-pictured PHQ card to thank for all of this, Sir Rowland Hill. Born on December 3, 1795 (which happens to be my own birthday as well), Hill was an English teacher, inventor and social reformer. He campaigned for a comprehensive reform of the postal system, based on the concept of Uniform Penny Post and his solution of prepayment, facilitating the safe, speedy and cheap transfer of letters. Hill later served as a government postal official, and he is credited with originating the basic concepts of the modern postal service, including the invention of the postage stamp.

In the 1830s at least 12½% of all British mail was conveyed under the personal frank of peers, dignitaries and members of parliament, while censorship and political espionage were conducted by postal officials. Fundamentally, the postal system was mismanaged, wasteful, expensive and slow. It had become inadequate for the needs of an expanding commercial and industrial nation. There is a well-known story, probably apocryphal, about how Hill gained an interest in reforming the postal system; he apparently noticed a young woman too poor to redeem a letter sent to her by her fiancé. At that time, letters were normally paid for by the recipient, not the sender. The recipient could simply refuse delivery. Frauds were commonplace; for example, coded information could appear on the cover of the letter; the recipient would examine the cover to gain the information, and then refuse delivery to avoid payment. Each individual letter had to be logged. In addition, postal rates were complex, depending on the distance and the number of sheets in the letter.

Sir Rowland Hill
Sir Rowland Hill

Rowland Hill first started to take a serious interest in postal reforms in 1835. He commenced a detailed study of documents given to him in 1836 and this led him to the publication, in early 1837, of a pamphlet called Post Office Reform its Importance and Practicability. The report called for “low and uniform rates” according to weight, rather than distance. Hill’s study reported his findings and those of Charles Babbage that most of the costs in the postal system were not for transport, but rather for laborious handling procedures at the origins and the destinations.

Costs could be reduced dramatically if postage were prepaid by the sender, the prepayment to be proven by the use of prepaid letter sheets or adhesive stamps (adhesive stamps had long been used to show payment of taxes, on documents for example). Letter sheets were to be used because envelopes were not yet common; they were not yet mass-produced, and in an era when postage was calculated partly on the basis of the number of sheets of paper used, the same sheet of paper would be folded and serve for both the message and the address. In addition, Hill proposed to lower the postage rate to a penny per half ounce, without regard to distance.

In the House of Lords the Postmaster, Lord Lichfield, a Whig, denounced Hill’s “wild and visionary schemes.” William Leader Maberly, Secretary to the Post Office, also a Whig, denounced Hill’s study: “This plan appears to be a preposterous one, utterly unsupported by facts and resting entirely on assumption”. But merchants, traders and bankers viewed the existing system as corrupt and a restraint of trade. They formed a “Mercantile Committee” to advocate for Hill’s plan and pushed for its adoption. In 1839, Hill was given a two-year contract to run the new system.

The Uniform Fourpenny Post rate was introduced that lowered the cost to fourpence from December 5, 1839, then to the penny rate on January 10, 1840, even before stamps or letter sheets could be printed. The volume of paid internal correspondence increased dramatically, by 120%, between November 1839 and February 1840. This initial increase resulted from the elimination of “free franking” privileges and fraud.

Cartoon featuring Rowland Hill from Punch Magazine, published March 19, 1864
Cartoon featuring Rowland Hill from Punch Magazine, published March 19, 1864

Prepaid letter sheets, with a design by William Mulready, were distributed in early 1840. These Mulready envelopes were not popular and were widely satirized. According to a brochure distributed by the National Postal Museum (now the British Postal Museum & Archive), the Mulready envelopes threatened the livelihoods of stationery manufacturers, who encouraged the satires. They became so unpopular that the government used them on official mail and destroyed many others.

However, as a niche commercial publishing industry for machine-printed illustrated envelopes subsequently developed in Britain and elsewhere, it is likely that it was the sentiment of the illustration that provoked the ridicule and led to their withdrawal. Indeed, in the absence of examples of machine-printed illustrated envelopes prior to this it may be appropriate to recognize the Mulready envelope as a significant innovation in its own right. Machine-printed illustrated envelopes are a mainstay of the direct mail industry.

In May 1840, the world’s first adhesive postage stamps were distributed. With an elegant engraving of the young Queen Victoria (whose 21st birthday was celebrated that month), the Penny Black was an instant success. Refinements, such as perforations to ease the separating of the stamps, were instituted with later issues.

The earliest known picture postcard was a hand-painted design on card, posted in Fulham in London by the writer Theodore Hook to himself in 1840, and bearing a Penny Black stamp. He probably created and posted the card to himself as a practical joke on the postal service, since the image is a caricature of workers in the post office. In 2002, the postcard sold for £31,750.

In recognition of his contributions to the development of the modern postal system, Hill is memorialized at the Universal Postal Union, the UN agency charged with regulating the international postal system. Altogether, 147 countries have issued stamps commemorating him.

Great Britain - Scott #1626 (1995) used
Great Britain – Scott #1626 (1995) used
Great Britain - Scott #1 (1840) used, MJ check letters
Great Britain – Scott #1 (1840) used, MJ check letters

The PHQ card featured in this article was released by Royal Mail in conjunction with a four-stamp “Communications” set on September 5. 1995 (Scott #1625-1628). The stamps were designed and engraved by master engraver Czeslaw Slania. A copy of the actual stamp, as well as the Penny Black that I have in my collection (note the “MJ” control letters match my own initials) are shown above.

You can read more about Rowland Hill and the development of postage stamps on my main blog, A Stamp A Day, which now has some 832 articles.

Posted in U.S.A. - California

Walnut Creek, California

It has been far too long since I’ve posted to this blog (or since I’ve received a postcard, for that matter). I hope to add a few cards here in the next few weeks, starting with this vintage map card showing San Francisco Bay in California. San Francisco is probably my favorite city in the United States and I have many fond memories visiting relatives around the Bay while growing up.

My most recent “extended stay” was in late May and early June of 1997 when I spent around 10 days there in order to attend the Pacific 97 International Stamp Exhibition at the Moscone Center. During this time, I stayed with my Uncle Ed and Aunt Gladys in the heights outside of Walnut Creek (using the BART trains as transport between the East Bay and downtown each day). I believe my first visit to this house owned (built?) by my dad’s older brother must have been around 1972. I only made it to the summit nearby of nearby Mount Diablo once, when I was perhaps 13 or 14 years old.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any postcards from Walnut Creek but I was surprised to see the town (and Mount Diablo) marked on this particular map-card which was mailed from San Francisco on the evening of April 25, 1923.

Walnut Creek as seen from Acalanes Open Space

Located in Contra Costa County 16 miles (26 kilometers) east of the city of Oakland, Walnut Creek has a total estimated population of 69,122 and serves as a hub for its neighboring cities because of its location at the junction of the highways from Sacramento and San Jose (I-680) and San Francisco/Oakland (SR-24) and its accessibility by BART. Its active downtown neighborhood features hundred-year-old buildings and extensive high-end retail establishments, restaurants and entertainment venues.

There are three bands of Bay Miwok Indians associated with early Walnut Creek: the Saclan, whose territory extended through the hills east of present-day Oakland, Rossmoor, Lafayette, Moraga and Walnut Creek; the Volvon (also spelled Bolbon, Wolwon and Zuicun) near Mt. Diablo; and the Tactan located on the San Ramon Creek in Danville and Walnut Creek.

Today’s Walnut Creek is located within the earlier site of four Mexican land grants. One of these land grants – measuring 18,000 acres (73 km²) – belonged to Juana Sanchez de Pacheco, who eventually passed the land down to her two grandsons. Ygnacio Sibrian, one of the grandsons, created the first roofed home in the valley in about 1850. The grant was called Rancho Arroyo de Las Nueces y Bolbones, named after the principal waterway, Arroyo de las Nueces (Walnut Creek), as well as for the local group of indigenous Americans (Bolbones). The Arroyo de las Nueces was named for the evidence of the native species of walnut tree, the California Walnut.

With the coming of American settlers following the Mexican–American War, a small settlement called “The Corners” emerged, named because it was the place where roads from Pacheco and Lafayette met. The site of this first American settlement is found today at the intersection of Mt. Diablo Boulevard and North Main Street. The first town settler was William Slusher, who built a dwelling on the bank of Walnut Creek, which was called “Nuts Creek” by the Americans in 1849. In the year 1855, Milo Hough of Lafayette built the hotel named “Walnut Creek House” in the corners. A blacksmith shop and a store soon joined the hotel, and a year later, Hiram Penniman (who built Shadelands Ranch) laid out the town site and realigned the Main Street of today. Two decades later, the community changed its name from The Corners to Walnut Creek.

Downtown Walnut Creek

In December 1862 a United States Post Office was established, and the community was named “Walnut Creek”. The downtown street patterns laid out in 1871–1872 by pioneer Homer Shuey on a portion of one of his family’s large cattle ranches are still present today.

Walnut Creek began to grow with the arrival of Southern Pacific Railroad service in 1891. On October 21, 1914, the town and the surrounding area of 500 acres (2.0 km²), were incorporated as the eighth city in Contra Costa County. A branch line of the Southern Pacific railroad ran through Walnut Creek until the late 1970s. The East Bay Regional Park District’s Iron Horse Trail, used by walkers, runners and bikers, runs over what were portions of that branch line. The mainline of the Sacramento Northern Railway passed through Walnut Creek. Both railroads had stations here. Today, the Antioch–SFO/Millbrae line of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) serves Walnut Creek with a station adjacent to Highway 680.

With the 1951 opening of the downtown Broadway Shopping Center (now Broadway Plaza), Contra Costa County’s first major retail center, the city took off in a new direction, and its population more than quadrupled – from 2,460 in 1950 to 9,903 in 1960.

Walnut Creek – the actual waterway that runs through town – has been routed underneath downtown through a series of tunnels starting at the southwest end of Macy’s and ending just southwest of Maria Maria Restaurant.

Walnut Creek owns more open space per capita than any other community in the state of California. In 1974, Walnut Creek voters approved a $6.7 million bond measure that allowed the city to purchase 1,800 acres (730 ha) of undeveloped hillsides, ridge lines, and park sites. Walnut Creek owns parts of Lime Ridge Open Space, Shell Ridge Open Space, Acalanes Ridge Open Space, and Sugarloaf Open Space. The East Bay Regional Park District operates Diablo Foothills Regional Park and Castle Rock Regional Recreation Area, both in Walnut Creek.

Shell Ridge Open Space

Mount Diablo is nearby, south of Clayton and northeast of Danville. It is an isolated upthrust peak of 3,849 feet (1,173 m), visible from most of the San Francisco Bay Area, appearing from many angles to be a double pyramid. It has many subsidiary peaks, the largest and closest of which is the other half of the double pyramid, North Peak, nearly as high in elevation at 3,557 feet (1,084 m) and about a mile northeast of the main summit. The summit is accessible by foot, bicycle, or motor vehicle. Road access is via North Gate Road or South Gate Road.

The peak is in Mount Diablo State Park, a state park of about 20,000 acres (8,000 ha). The park was the first public open space of a complex‍ —‌ according to Save Mount Diablo‍ —‌ now including 38 preserves, including nearby city open spaces, regional parks, watersheds, that are buffered in some areas with private lands protected with conservation easements. Preserved lands on and around Mount Diablo total more than 90,000 acres (36,000 ha).

View of Mount Diablo from Concord: north peak (left), Mount Zion (center), and main peak (right),
View of Mount Diablo from Concord: north peak (left), Mount Zion (center), and main peak (right),

Mount Diablo is sacred to many California Native American peoples; according to Miwok mythology and Ohlone mythology, it was the point of creation. Prior to European entry, the creation narrative varied among surrounding local groups. In one surviving narrative fragment, Mount Diablo and Reed’s Peak (Mount Tamalpais) were surrounded by water; from these two islands the creator Coyote and his assistant Eagle-man made Native American people and the world. In another, Molok the Condor brought forth his grandson Wek-Wek the Falcon Hero, from within the mountain.

In 1851 the south peak of the mountain was selected by Colonel Leander Ransom as the initial point — where the Mount Diablo Base and Mount Diablo Meridian lines intersect — for cadastral surveys of a large area. Subsequent surveys in much of California, Nevada and Oregon were located with reference to this point. Toll roads up the mountain were created in 1874 by Joseph Seavey Hall and William Camron (sometimes “Cameron”); Hall’s Mount Diablo Summit Road was officially opened on May 2, 1874. Camron’s “Green Valley” road opened later. Hall also built the 16-room Mountain House Hotel near the junction of the two roads, a mile below the summit (2,500 foot elevation, operated through the 1880s, abandoned 1895, burned circa 1901). As far north as Meridian Road, on the outskirts of Chico, California, the summit was used as a reference point. The road is colinear with the summit, and is named for the meridian which intersects it.

An aerial navigation beacon, the Standard Diablo tower was erected by Standard Oil at the summit in 1928. The 10-million-candlepower beacon became known as the “Eye of Diablo” and was visible for a hundred miles.

Posted in Croatia

Zagreb’s Cathedral

Flag of the Republic of Croatia

Postcard of Zagrebs cathedralZagreb, CroatiaNearly one year ago, I received my first two postcards from the Republic of Croatia — one from Split and the other, this card, from the capital of Zagreb. Mailed about a week apart, they arrived in Thailand on the same day. While preparing for this article, I realized that I hadn’t yet written a country profile about the current independent republic for my daily stamp blog so I set about to do just that. An account of the recent history of Croatia (from the 1990s until the present date) can be found on that blog, as can a history of the World War II German- and Italian-controlled but otherwise unrecognized Independent State of Croatia.

Zagreb is the capital and the largest city of Croatia, located in the northwest of the country along the Sava river, at the southern slopes of the Medvednica mountain. It lies at an elevation of approximately 400 feet (122 meters) above sea level. The estimated population of the city in 2018 is 809,773. The population of Zagreb urban agglomeration is slightly above 1.1 million inhabitants and it makes approximately a quarter of a total population of Croatia.

Map of Croatia

The oldest settlement located near today’s Zagreb was a Roman town of Andautonia, now Šćitarjevo, which existed between the 1st and the 5th century AD. The first recorded appearance of the name Zagreb is dated to 1094, at which time the city existed as two different city centers: the smaller, eastern Kaptol, inhabited mainly by clergy and housing Zagreb Cathedral, and the larger, western Gradec, inhabited mainly by craftsmen and merchants. Zagreb became a free royal town in 1242.

In 1851, Zagreb had its first mayor, Janko Kamauf. Gradec and Kaptol were united in 1851 by ban Josip Jelačić, The first railway line to connect Zagreb with Zidani Most and Sisak was opened in 1862 and in 1863 Zagreb received a gasworks. The Zagreb waterworks was opened in 1878.

After the 1880 Zagreb earthquake, up to the 1914 outbreak of World War I, development flourished and the town received the characteristic layout which it has today. The first horse-drawn tram was used in 1891. The construction of the railway lines enabled the old suburbs to merge gradually into Donji Grad, characterized by a regular block pattern that prevails in Central European cities. This bustling core hosts many imposing buildings, monuments, and parks as well as a multitude of museums, theatres and cinemas. An electric power plant was built in 1907.

During World War II, Zagreb became the capital of the Independent State of Croatia, which was backed by the Nazi Germany and Italians. The history of Zagreb in World War II became rife with incidents of regime terror and resistance sabotages, and the Ustaša regime had thousands of people executed during the war in and near the city. The city was liberated by the Partisans at the end of the war. From 1945 until 1990, Zagreb was the capital of the Socialist Republic of Croatia, one of the six constituent socialist republics of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

During the period of former Yugoslavia, Zagreb remained an important economic center of the country, and was the second largest city. After Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia, Zagreb was proclaimed its capital..

Map of Zagreb, Croatia

Zagreb has a special status in the Croatia’s administrative division and is a consolidated city-county (but separated from Zagreb County). It is administratively subdivided into 17 city districts. Most of them are at a low elevation along the river Sava valley, whereas northern and northeastern city districts, such as Podsljeme and Sesvete districts are situated in the foothills of the Medvednica mountain, making the city’s geographical image rather diverse. The city extends over 19 miles (30 km) east-west and around 12 miles (20 km) north-south.

The transport connections, concentration of industry, scientific, and research institutions and industrial tradition underlie Zagreb’s leading economic position in Croatia. It is the seat of the central government, administrative bodies, and almost all government ministries. Almost all of the largest Croatian companies, media, and scientific institutions have their headquarters in the city. Zagreb is the most important transport hub in Croatia where Central Europe, the Mediterranean and Southeast Europe meet, making the Zagreb area the center of the road, rail and air networks of Croatia. It is a city known for its diverse economy, high quality of living, museums, sporting, and entertainment events. Its main branches of economy are high-tech industries and the service sector.

Reconstruction of the Zagreb Cathedral in 1894.
Reconstruction of the Zagreb Cathedral in 1894.

The Zagreb Cathedral on Kaptol is a Roman Catholic institution and not only the tallest building in Croatia but also the most monumental sacral building in Gothic style southeast of the Alps. It is dedicated to the Assumption of Mary and to kings Saint Stephen and Saint Ladislaus. The cathedral is typically Gothic, as is its sacristy, which is of great architectural value. Its prominent spires are considered to be landmarks as they are visible from most parts of the city.

In 1093, when King Ladislaus moved the bishop’s chair from Sisak to Zagreb, he proclaimed the existing church as a cathedral. Construction on the cathedral started shortly after his death and was finished in 1217 and consecrated by king Andrew II of Hungary. The building was destroyed by the Mongols in 1242 but rebuilt by bishop Timotej a few years later. At the end of the 15th century, the Ottoman Empire invaded Croatia, triggering the construction of fortification walls around the cathedral, some of which are still intact. In the 17th century, a fortified renaissance watchtower was erected on the south side, and was used as a military observation point, because of the Ottoman threat.

Kaptol Square and Zagreb Cathedral. Photo taken on May 7, 2009.
Kaptol Square and Zagreb Cathedral. Photo taken on May 7, 2009.

The cathedral was severely damaged in the 1880 Zagreb earthquake. The main nave collapsed and the tower was damaged beyond repair. The restoration of the cathedral in the Neo-Gothic style was led by Hermann Bollé, bringing the cathedral to its present form. As part of that restoration, two spires 354 feet (108 m) high were raised on the western side, both of which are now in the process of being restored as part of an extensive general restoration of the cathedral.

The cathedral is depicted on the reverse of the Croatian 1000 kuna banknote issued in 1993.

When facing the portal, the building is 150 feet (46 m) wide and 354 feet (108 m) high. The cathedral contains a relief of Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac with Christ done by the Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović. The cathedral was visited by Pope Benedict XVI on June 5, 2011, where he celebrated Sunday Vespers and prayed before the tomb of Blessed Aloysius Stepinac.

Postcard from Zagrab, Croatia, 2017

Coat of arms of Croatia