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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Cards

The official 2013 White House Christmas card is a pop-up designed by Michigan artist, Chris Hankinson. You can buy one on eBay for $125.
John Callcott Horsley Self-Portrait, 1882
"Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you." That was the message on the first commercially printed Christmas card designed by British artist John Horsley Callcott to be sent by his friend, Sir Henry Cole, back in 1843. Included was the Horsley envelope, the first with prepaid postage. The man was too busy to write individual holiday greetings (or, apparently, to lick postage stamps). Cole had one thousand printed (and hand-colored). Twelve are known to still exist. Today, Christmas cards have faded in popularity from their height in the 1950s when my mother used to send between 50 and a hundred each year (postage was three cents). Today, what with the cost of the cards themselves, the ever-rising price of stamps, and the time-consuming (and boring) chore of addressing each one, the practice is rapidly fading into obscurity. It's much too easy and virtually cost free to send such greetings via e-mail, complete with music and annimations even the most expensive, high-tech, greeting cards today can't touch.
Callcott's 1843 Christmas card upset some folks in its depiction of a child
imbibiing a little Christmas cheer.
Looks like he could use a little
Christmas cheer.
Sir Henry Cole was a British bureaucrat and inventor born in 1808, who began his public service career at the age of 15 as an assistant in the Public Records Office. By the time he left there four years later he'd completely reorganized the place. He's sometimes credited with having invented the first postage stamp. Whatever the case, Cole's time-saving contribution to Christmas customs caught on. The Victorian era saw the design, printing, and popularity of Christmas greetings (below, right) multiply among the British upper classes from the queen on down to the postman (who likely sneaked his greetings by for free). Lace and lads and lassies dominated the illustrations, though it's uncertain whether Callcott ever created any more of them.

A 1905 vintage Christmas postcard with the now hated Xmas abbreviation.

A Victorian Christmas card
dating from around 1870.
Around 1873, the British lithographers, Prang and Mayer, headed by designer, Louis Prang, took note of the growing popularity of Christmas cards and decided to export the custom to America. They were immediately popular, though their success had a downside. Cheap imitations eventually drove the company from the market as Victorian folding cards were quickly replaced with the postcard version (above). An 1885 Prang greeting (below, left) has a thoroughly modern Santa talking on the phone with children from around the world. (Who writes letters to Santa Claus when you can talk to him on the phone?)

A thoroughly modern 1885 Santa.
Politicians, from presidents on down, have long sent printed Christmas greetings to important friends (especially campaign donors), though most featured summer scenes. However, it wasn't until 1953 that there was an official White House Christmas card signed by President Eisenhower and Mamie. It was a rather subdued affair featuring the presidential seal on a solid blue background, but it's the thought that counts. In 1961, Jackie Kennedy incorporated a photo into the greeting (below), a summer view of ducks on a pond with the mansion in the background (not at all Christmasy). The following year featured a watercolor rendering of the Red Room in the White House minus any decorations. That same year the front of the card featured a photo of the White House in the snow. Religious themes are a rarity in White House Christmas greetings.

The 1961 White House Christmas card. Shouldn't there be snow?
The 2013 White House Christmas greeting this year (top) is probably the most novel ever sent out by a president and his family. First of all it's a "pop-up". I can't tell for sure, but it looks as if there might even be an LED inside to give a warm glow through the windows. Beyond that, it's signed by, not just the president and first lady, but also their children. However most innovating (some might say annoying) is that the White House dogs, Sunny and Bo have added their paw prints at the bottom.

Below is my 21st century greeting card to my readers (ca. 2010):

Sing along, if you like.



  1. Thank you for your comment and for taking the time to make it. I'm glad someone reads my "stuff." Merry Christmas! --Jim Lane

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  3. Asun Seo--

    Thanks for reading and writing.--Jim Lane