Norway’s top three vintage postcards

The stories behind travelers’ all-time favorite postcards to mail home from Norway

Norway's top selling postcard of a milkmaid riding a pig

Photo: photographer said to be Fredric Hanche / courtesy of Normanns Kunstforlag
Seterjentenes Fridag (Milkmaid’s day off), Norway’s all-time best-selling postcard; sign at right reads “Real goat cheese for sale.” (One of the backers from our recent crowdfunding campaign will be receiving a copy of this postcard!)

M. Michael Brady
Asker, Norway

Despite texting and emailing, travelers still send postcards. Through the years, three Norwegian postcards have become venerable favorites. In sales, the all-time star is Seterjentens fridag (Milkmaid’s day off), featuring a black-and-white photo taken in 1932. More than two million have been sold.

The real-life story of Seterjentens fridag evinces Norwegian folklore. Milkmaid Anne Skår (1913-1991) was born at Borgund in Lærdal in Sogn og Fjordane County. At age 12, she began assisting at a summer pasture farm. At age 19, she was a qualified milkmaid working a farm at Galdestølen, on the road in Mørkedalen on the way to the Hemsedal massif. The work was hard, the days long, and the pay low, just NOK 25 ($5.80 at the exchange rate of the time) a month.

Like other farms of the time, Galdestølen was on the road, which ran between its cowshed and farmhouse. One day, a farm sow stubbornly stood in the middle of the road, refusing to move. There was little traffic on the road, but milkmaid Anne knew that the sow shouldn’t just stand there, blocking the road. Persuasive calls and pushing didn’t budge the animal. So Anne tried the ultimate trick of jumping on its back, to ride it like a horse. A tourist staying in a nearby cabin saw and photographed the scene of a milkmaid riding a sow. The rest is history, documented 78 years later in the two Norwegian languages (Further reading). The Galdestølen farm is now abandoned, but its buildings still stand in Sogn og Fjordane County, just to the southeast of Riksvei 52 (National road 52) between Borlaug on the European E16 highway and Breidstolen to the southeast.

postcard of the Hell railway station

Photo: courtesy of Normanns Kunstforlag
Postcard of Hell railway station. There are several varieties of this shot, all of which remain popular.

The Hell Railway station has become a tourist attraction due to its name being spelled the same way as the religious concept of Hell in English. So there are many postcards of it; the vintage postcard shown here features a black-and-white photo taken in the early 1950s. In Norwegian, the place name Hell has more mundane roots. It comes from the Old Norse word hellir, meaning “cave.” The Norwegian equivalent of the English word Hell is helvete, from the Anglo-Saxon helliwīti (meaning “Hell-torment”) and the Old Norse helvíti. Today the town of Hell is a node in north-south transportation in Norway, as both the European E6 highway (Trelleborg on the south coast of Sweden to Kirkenes near the Russian border in north Norway) and the Dovre Line railway between Trondheim and Bodø cross the Stjørdal River on bridges there. The town’s nearest neighbor to the north is the Trondheim Airport at Værnes, so flights to Trondheim can be said to land near Hell.

postcard of a moose on a road

Photo: NN/Samfoto / Hans Hvide Bang / courtesy of Normanns Kunstforlag
Elg (Moose). This simple image is a hit among Norwegian postcard buyers.

The newest of the vintage favorites is Elg (Moose), a color photo taken in the 1960s of a moose cow apparently looking at a triangular road sign warning of a wildlife crossing. But the translation of Elg into English brought in a zoological classification complication. The species of the animal shown is Alces alces, initially known as the Eurasian Elk in British English. But confusingly, the animal known as Elk in North America is of the Cervus canadensis species, and the Alces alces is known as the Moose, from the Algonquian Indian words describing its habit of feeding by stripping lower branches and bark from trees. So to avoid misunderstanding, Elg now is translated most accurately to “Moose” in both British and American English.

Further reading
• “Den ensomme rytter” (The lonesome rider) by John-Arne Ø. Gundersen, Dagbladet (Oslo newspaper), June 30, 2010 (in Bokmål):

• “Kven var dama på grisen?” (Who was the woman on the pig?) by Linda Eide and Asle Hella, (NRK and Norwegian Trekking Association outdoor life website), August 2, 2010 (in Nynorsk):

• “Norway’s roads less traveled: Go to Hell—but only temporarily” by Christine Foster Meloni and Tim Christenson, The Norwegian American, June 2, 2017:

• “Barneblad: Moose or Elk?” by Heidi Håvan Grosch, The Norwegian American, March 20, 2015:

This article originally appeared in the July 14, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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M. Michael Brady

M. Michael Brady was born, raised, and educated as a scientist in the United States. After relocating to the Oslo area, he turned to writing and translating. In Norway, he is now classified as a bilingual dual national.