Throwback Thursday | Edwin Cawston vs. Santa Claus: Who Received the Most Mail?

Between the two their was no competition, Cawston ran supreme in South Pasadena

PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | | Advertisement “A Cawston Christmas” Santa and sleigh with magical flying ostriches (1911)

During the holiday season, Edwin Cawston boasted: “I receive more mail at my ostrich farm in South Pasadena than Santa Claus at the North Pole.” He was correct of course. Cawston received mail requests for feather fashion products from all over the world. The mail orders came by the thousands, especially during the holiday season.

In actual practice, letters sent to the North Pole went unanswered to a Dead Letter Office. At the time it was against the law to open mail addressed to Santa Clause or Father Christmas. In 1913, the U.S. government authorized designated groups to help open letters addressed only to “Santa Claus.” Today, of course, Santa answers emails online at numerous sites such as Letters to Santa, Email, Elf HQ, and Macy’s.

PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | | Advertisement “A Cawston Christmas” (1911)
PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | | Advertisement “Buy Direct from the Cawston Ostrich Farm” (1917)

To promote his burgeoning mail order business, Edwin Cawston mailed thousands of catalogs and placed advertisements in a variety of regional and national publications.

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Edwin Cawston offered women consumers the opportunity to dress like royalty at affordable prices. Only the most exquisite high-quality ostrich plumes were sold direct to consumers at producer prices, cutting out the middleman.

PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | | Advertisement “A Chain of Cawston Stores” (1914)
PHOTO: South Pasadena Public Library | | Cawston Store interior on South Broadway, Los Angeles (1915)

At the height of his ostrich farm’s success, Cawston opened retail stores in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | | Edwin Cawston and his wife Emma at Cawston Ostrich Farm, South Pasadena (1918)

The South Pasadenan wishes you and your family love, joy, and good health during the holidays and the New Year.

Throwback Thursday is written and produced by Rick Thomas

Rick Thomas
Author Rick Thomas is the former museum curator and vice-chair of education for the South Pasadena Preservation Foundation. He served on the South Pasadena Natural Resources Commission, helping to maintain a strict policy protecting the city’s great old-growth trees. Using touchstone photographs from his own collection—one of the San Gabriel Valley’s largest accumulations of historical images and artifacts—as well as national, state, and local historical archives, Thomas provides a window to his city’s past and an understanding of why its preservation is so important.