Today@Sam Article

Unique Display Features Depression-Era Christmas Cards

Nov. 30, 2023
SHSU Media Contact: Mikah Boyd

20231127_shsu_museum_natural_science_9716square.jpegThe Sam Houston Natural Science & Art Research Center opened in 2019 to showcase collections of fossils, art, minerals and numerous other items relating to the scientific history of the region and state. This quest frequently involves uncovering distinctive artifacts from bygone eras. While sorting through a donation of geological samples from the Weinzierl family, Curator William Godwin recently found a smaller box containing an assortment of Christmas cards from 1929. 

“We’re a science museum, so Christmas cards don’t fit really well,” Godwin said. “We were actually thinking about throwing them out when we were looking through stuff. I looked at those cards and considered what to do with them and then I looked closer and noticed one of them was from a famous Texas geologist.”

After finding one name he recognized, Godwin and his team dug deeper and found that the cards featured numerous people who were all connected to the oil industry in one way or another. Some were geologists who used their scientific knowledge to refine the practices of the early oil industry, others had oil or other valuable natural resources discovered on their property and many were Texas oil executives. All senders sent out high-quality Christmas cards full of holiday greetings to their friends, believing Black Tuesday’s stock collapse was a minor setback.

“The striking thing is that they’re doing that at the height of the of the roaring 20s,” Godwin said. “As we do our research, we see many of them actually having their mansions and art collections and estates auctioned off a few months later because, my goodness, they’ve been ruined.”


In one of the letters featured in the display, the sender shares well wishes and a brief mention of how he will continue working in the oil fields in hopes of paying off his debts. Godwin explained how the note highlights just how dire the situation was as the Great Depression approached.

Godwin and his team spent multiple weekends sorting through the cards and digging up more stories, eventually finding cards from Dollie Radler, one of the first female geologists in Oklahoma; Herman Baade, a professor who helped the Napa Valley move from basic crops to growing grapes for wine; Alexander Deussen, who had discovered oil in the Mexia area which became the fault-controlled oil fields. 

While Godwin had a hard time choosing a favorite, he enjoyed sharing the story of the card they first discovered, which led to the museum keeping the set.

“F.L. Whitney sent this card, it’s a photograph and it says, ‘Sincere wishes for a Merry Christmas,’ and it’s a picture of some mountains and cactuses. What does that have to do with Christmas?” Godwin said. “Then we figured out what you would take a picture of in Texas and put on your Christmas card if you’re a geologist, the Christmas Mountains.”

20231127_shsu_museum_natural_science_9755.jpgAfter doing some digging, the team found that Whitney was actually the first person to teach paleontology courses at the University of Texas. When World War II came around, he made models to demonstrate structural geology and copper plated them using his own photographic chemicals and emulsified papers.

Members of the SHSU community can learn more about Whitney, the other renowned geologists and their unique Christmas cards by visiting the Sam Houston Natural Science & Art Research Center. The center is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and at other times by appointment. Appointments can be made by calling or texting 936-556-2289.

- END -

This page maintained by SHSU's Communications Office:

Director of Content Communications: Emily Binetti

Communications Manager: Mikah Boyd
Telephone: 936.294.1837

Communications Specialist: Campbell Atkins
Telephone: 936.294.2638

Please send comments, corrections, news tips to