Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Postcard Romance: Anny Lieb in Vienna and her Friend in Styria, 1913-1914

One Saturday night at an auction house between Ferndale and Bellingham (WA), I outbid a few other folks for a couple hundred old postcards. I have been buying orphan postcards and photographs for a while, I think because I am something of a voyeur of the past. I enjoy going through cards and photos to glimpse the stories of people long gone and so forgotten that no one values these artifacts of their lives.  

Old postcards can provide small windows into the lives of people who lived at other times and places. Fortunately, many old postcards remain from their golden age, from about 1895 to 1915. During these years, sending and collecting postcards ranked among the world's most popular hobbies. They were cheap, colorful, and easy to send, so people dashed them off to update someone about a trip, plans, or an interesting event, or to remind someone that they had not written a promised letter, or to flirt, or to proclaim love. In 1913, according to the U.S. post office, 967 million post cards were mailed in this country alone. No telling how many billions were sent world wide. 

Many people kept albums filled with the postcards mailed to them or that they bought as souvenirs. A postcard album, like a photo album, often documented important aspects of its owner’s life. For example, a few years ago I was doing research on a prominent Little Rock family. The head of the family, who had immigrated from Germany when he was 15, had come to Little Rock with the Northern army occupying the city during the Civil War. He had stayed and been a successful businessman, starting one of the first building and loan associations in the city. At an advanced age, long after his wife of many years had died, he married a much younger woman whom he met in Germany. She moved to Little Rock in 1911 and lived in the city until her death in 1961. In 1978, I bought several items from her estate, including many postcards and photos. From those acquisitions, I clarified many details about where she lived before coming to the U.S., how she met her husband, and her life after his death. See and 

Unfortunately, postcard collections are too often broken apart so that single postcards with interesting photos or illustrations, or perhaps stamps, can be sold separately. When cards are separated from a collection, a part of the story of a person’s life disappears and we are robbed of glimpses of past.

Flirting and Fussing by Postcard: Anny Lieb, 1913-1914

Several weeks after the auction, as I sorted through the postcards I had bought, I was happy to find that they included at least part of the postcard collection of a woman named Anny Lieb.  In her younger years, before World War I and for a while after, she lived in Vienna. Later, she moved to the United States, married, and lived in different West Coast cities, including Seattle. Likely, she was living there when she died. Who knows what journey her orphaned cards took to get to a Northwest Washington auction house.

Going through cards mailed to Anny’s Vienna address, I noticed several cards that resembled each other: each had a colorful sketched scene on a bright white background and each scene was labeled, all but one in English. Some of the labels were somewhat suggestive words such as “The Kiss,” “Ready for Mischief,” and “Naughty, Naughty.” All of the cards -- nine of them -- were sent by the same young man.

These postcards tell a small story of a would-be suitor living in a distant Austrian province who had an interest in a young Viennese woman who might have been somewhat attracted by her suitor, but probably just wanted another pen pal and perhaps some flirting. The details of the cards illustrate the social conventions of the time.

The postcards were sent to Anny Lieb in 1913 and 1914. I would guess she was then about 17 or 18 years old. They were mailed by a young man who worked in Rohitsch-Sauerbrunn, a small health resort in – at that time – Styria, one of Austria’s southern provinces. The city is now Rogaška Slatina and it is in Slovenia, not far from the border with Croatia. The town is famous for its curative mineral bathes and water (in English, Sauerbrunn means sour or acidic spring). People still travel to the city to “take the waters” in hopes of curing various ailments.   See

This young man’s name is difficult to determine from his scribbled signature. His initials were M.R. and his last name may have been Renshick or Rershink. Though he worked in Rohitsch-Sauerbrunn, his home (or perhaps the home of his parents, where he sometimes lived) was in Krapina, a small town about 30 miles from his workplace. Krapina was then in the Hungarian part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, just over the border from Styria. The city is now in Croatia. It houses the Neanderthal Museum and is located near several thermal springs. See

The postcards were addressed to Anny Lieb at Hofmanngasse 7 in Vienna. This address is a block long street on the edge of the 18th district between Staudgasse and the Gürtel, not far from the present location of Vienna’s General Hospital. (Three years ago, I stayed for a month at an apartment on Schopenhauergasse, which is about two blocks from Hofmanngasse.)

The first three postcards sent by M.R. to Ms Lieb were formally addressed to “Hochwohlgeboren Fraülein Anny Lieb” (High-born Miss Anny Lieb). In title-obsessed Austria, the use of “Hochwohlgeboren” in the address may indicate that Anny Lieb came from a family with some lesser nobility rank, or perhaps its use was an exaggeration of status that was not uncommon. After three postcards addressed to the “Hochwolgeboren Anny”, he switched to other less formal titles:  “Les jolie mademoiselle,” “Miss,” “Mademoiselle” and “Fraülein.”

In addressing the first three postcards, M.R. misspelled “Hochwohlgeboren,” writing instead Hochwolgeboren.” It seems possible from his use of German and his penmanship (which is fairly readable, unlike the fraktur handwriting of better educated Germans and Austrians) that German was a strong second language instead of his first.

Based on the first three postcards, it seems likely that M.R. and Anny Lieb did not know each other well. The first card was addressed to the equivalent of “general delivery.” So, likely he did not know her home address. In all of the cards, he used only formal pronouns, indicating that they were not close enough friends for him to use to the informal form of address (“du” instead of “Sie”) when addressing her.

Most of the postcards end with “warmest greetings” from the sender. After the first three, he added a “mit handkuss,” with a kiss of the hand.  In Austria, “küss die hand gnädige Frau” was a formal way for a gentleman to greet a lady; sometimes with an air kiss above the hand and sometimes only with the words. In this situation with the postcard between a young man and a young woman, “mit handkuss” could simply mean something like “with pleasure” or it could have a suggestive literal meaning.

The First Three Postcards: February to July, 1913

Card Number 1
Date sent: February 7, 1913.
Sent from: Krapina
Picture title: The Trousseau
Hochwolgeboren Fraülein Anny Lieb
  Wien XVIII
  Postlagernd (general delivery, to be called for)

A picture, so wonderful
Emblazoned on the wall of my room;
What would be more beautiful
I must ask with hands raised high!
Such a personal thing I would greatly value.  

I would certainly have one
If the young woman far away
Was not reluctant to give me one

Card Number 2
Date sent: June 10, 1013
Sent from: Krapina
Picture title: The Pilot
  Hochwolgeboren Fraülein Anny Lieb
  Wien XVIII
  Hoffmanngasse 7

Best thanks for your lovely card. Why haven’t I written you any more from Rohitsch Sauerbrunn? Because you do not want to send me your picture! If you had sent it, then you would have received in gratitude a card from me every day.

Fraülein Mella is, so it seems, very good. She is cheerful – as always. Do you know Frl Anny Frl Herma Duda? She sends her warm greetings

Card Number 3
Date Sent: July 9, 1913
Sent from: Krapina
Picture title: The Pilot
Hochwolgeborn Fraülein Anny Lieb
Hoffmangasse 7

I have just come from Marend(?) and found your nice card for which I send my best thanks. It was a lot of fun there.  Xxx xxxx. In Krapina I am now resting myself for a while.

Warmest greetings, with a kiss of the hand.
A letter follows

(Upside down at the top of the post card:)
I really should not write (to you), but – more about that in the letter

I would explain the postcards this way:

In late summer of 1912, Anny went with her family on a vacation at Rohitsch Sauerbrunn where her father, a minor official in the Austrian finance ministry, hoped that the springs would relieve pain caused by gout. The Lieb family stayed at Hotel Erzherzog Johann where M.R., a Hungarian in his early 20s, worked as a waiter in the hotel's restaurant.

One night Anny was eating supper in the hote with her family when she noticed that a handsome waiter kept looking at her. When she looked back, he smiled and she blushed.

The next day, as she was sitting on the terrace of the hotel reading a book, the young man she had seen the night before sat down beside her and they started talking. The conversation had been lively, filled with much laughter. In the following days, Anny and M.R. had seen each other several times; usually they sat in a cafe with other younger visitors and hotel staff members. Although Anny was better educated and more sophisticated than most of her new friends, she had a good time with them. On her last day of her stay in Rohitsch-Sauerbrunn, her new friend, the lively waiter, gave her his mailing address and asked her to send him a photograph of herself. She said she would.

Several months later, as she was finishing her last year in high school, she got a notice from the Austrian postal service telling her that she had a postcard to pick up at the main post office. When she got it and read the poem chiding her for not sending M.R. a picture of herself, she remembered the country boy she had met in the summer. Thinking about his plea for a photo, she decided it would not be proper to send him one without knowing him better. Instead she mailed him a postcard asking how he was doing and telling him a few things going on in her life. She included her return address. When she did not hear back from him, she sent him a postcard asking if he had received hers.

He responded with the second post card, telling her that he had not responded because she had not sent him her picture. She replied pleasantly, with some definite flirting, telling M.R. that she had enjoyed their time in Rohitsch-Sauerbrunn. She did not send him her photo or respond to his suggestion that they should see each other again soon.

In the third postcard, he wrote that he had been in another city. He was traveling quite a bit to earn extra money by delivering bottled mineral water to different hotels and stores in Hungary. M.R. told Anny in his postcard that he was upset with her and he wrote more of his complaints in a letter. Also in the letter, he asked when he would see her again?

The Next Three Postcards, Early 1914

The postcard exchange between Anny and M.R. lagged during the last few months of 1913. She had graduated from high school and had begun working as a salesperson is a small dress shop near Hoffmanngasse 7. She had enjoyed the Ball season, but had no serious boyfriend. M.R. was also busy, traveling frequently to different cities of the Empire. Though both were busy, they kept in touch. He wrote her three short postcards in February and March. She responded with her own postcards. 

Postcard Number 4
Postmark date: Feb. 3
Postmark:  Zagreb
Picture Title: Ready for Mischief
   Les Joie Mademoisele
    Anny Lieb

In an Agramer Tango-evening.
Warmest greeting with a hand kiss.

Postcard Number 5
Postmark date: date unknown
Postmark: Krapina
Picture Title: Naughty, Naughty
      Miss Anny Lieb

Great thanks for your nice card. Have you received my letter from Budapest?
I send warmest greeting for your Namensfeste (=Namenstag, Saint’s Day). With a hand kiss.

Postcard Number 6
Postcard date Unknown
Postmark: Budapest
Picture title: Chums
          Miss Anny Lieb

It is not impossible that I will be in Vienna tomorrow. In the meanwhile, warm greetings with a hand kiss. 

The last postcard forced Anny to decide if she wanted to continue to keep in touch with M.R. If she avoided meeting him when he came to Vienna, their relationship -- whatever it was -- would be ended. He would be hurt and likely no more postcards would pass between the two.

Final Three Postcards: The End

Anny met M.R. when he traveled to Vienna from Budapest. He was busy with his work, so they had time only for a quick walk around the inner city and a supper at a small restaurant. She still enjoyed talking to him, but began to notice things about him that she did not especially like. First, his German was accented and he sometimes used the wrong article (i.e., feminine article when a masculine article was proper) or the wrong word when he was talking. Also, his clothes were out of fashion as was his haircut. And finally, he did not seem to know much about music and art. 

He was still fascinated with Anny and her life in Vienna, but was a bit piqued at the condescending way that she talked to him. While they flirted, it seemed he worked harder at flirting than she did. And he still had no photograph of her.

Postcard Number 7
Date Unknown (likely May)
Postmark: Krapina
Postcard title: Im Boudoir
    Fraülein Anny Lieb


Great thanks for your nice card from which I can see that you have found yourself in an especially good mood. Good that I know your pleasure to think well of all people. Is that not also for me the case? Warm greetings, with hand kiss.

Postcard Number 8 
Date Unknown (likely May)
Postcard Title: The Kiss
     Mademoiselle Anny Lieb


Thank you for your nice card, which greatly pleased me.  Am curious about the letter you promised me, what way would you find to back out!  Who is that Fraulein who sent me such a beautiful kiss? Certainly you do not know me, otherwise you would not do that, right Frl. Anny? I send warmest greetings with a hand kiss.

 <signed>“The uneducated Buby!”  (“Bub” means “boy”)

Postcard Number 9
Postdate: Unknown (likely May)
Postmark: Krapina
Postcard Title: The Kiss
     Mademoiselle Anny Lieb

My best thanks for your nice card. You have, however, left my question unanswered. Either you did it intentionally, or what seems more believable, you feel guilty that you did me an injustice in your last letter and therefore are keeping quiet! Am I not right, Fraulein Anny? - - -

Your greetings returned warmly with a hand kiss.

After their brief time together in Vienna, Anny sent M.R. a short letter thanking him for dinner and telling him how much she had enjoyed seeing him again. The letter was mostly polite and formal, but, for some reason, she included a "big kiss."

She realized that the "big kiss" had been a mistake when she received a letter back in which M.R. told her, in a guarded way, that he really liked her and wondered if she felt the same. She didn't think she did, but was not entirely sure. A couple of days after receiving his letter, she sent him a birthday card and promised that a letter would follow.

After waiting a couple of weeks for the letter, M.R. received instead another post card, It was nice enough, but did not answer his question. He replied with a post card (#8) that noted the absence of the promised letter and, beginning to think that she thought she was too good for him, he signed the postcard "The uneducated boy."

When Anny got his "uneducated boy" postcard, she was hurt by the implicit accusation. She wrote back immediately accusing him of trying to hurt her feelings even though they were such good friends and she had always treated him with warmth and respect. She did not answer his question.

After a couple of days, she felt guilty about what she had written in her letter to M.R. and sent him a colorful postcard with a chatty and friendly message.  In response, M.R. pointed out in a postcard (#9) that she had again avoided his question about how she felt about him and accused her of feeling guilty about an "injustice" in her last letter when she accused him of trying to hurt her feelings.

With the last exchange, both decided they had been mistreated. The exchange of postcards ceased as each waited for the other to apologize.

Within four months of the last postcard, M.R. was drafted into the Hungarian army as World War I began. Though wounded by an artillery shell, he survived the war and returned home. A couple of years after the end of the war, he traveled to Vienna on business and impulsively stopped by Hofmanngasse 7 to see if Anny was still there. He learned from her former neighbors that she had immigrated to the United States and they did not know her address. Realizing that he would never see her again, M.R. spent a few minutes stumbling through the streets wondering what might have been if she had just answered his question the way he had wanted her to. And because she was so far away, he wished more than ever that he had her picture to put on his wall.  

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