Vintage Christmas Cards

We e-mail, Tweet, Facebook, Instagram and, of course, we text. But, when was the last time you a sat down and wrote to someone? It’s not that we don’t have the opportunity. Most everyone has family out of town or a friend in a hospital or a nursing home who would love to receive a letter. Yet, we don’t seem to take the time for this most basic form of correspondence, with one exception. We will write a note on a Christmas card. How appropriate that is, considering that the first Christmas card was a form of stationery.
It is believed that the first official “Christmas card” was the joint effort of two Englishmen, artist John Horsley and postal worker Henry Cole. Their three paneled card featured a center panel depicting three generations of a family raising their glasses in a holiday toast and two side panels depicting scenes of families giving food and clothing to the poor. Apparently the idea of a family drinking together proved a little too controversial for Victorian moralists and it was discontinued for the second printing. Still the idea met with moderate success, selling 2,050 cards during the Christmas season of 1843.
The custom of sending Christmas cards was well established in England by 1860. But it would not make its’ way across the pond until 1874 when the firm of Prang and Mayer started producing cards for export to America. Under the direction of Louis Prang, the first card exported to the U.S. was a simple die cut flower with the words Merry Christmas. Over the next few years the cards from Prang and Mayer would become more elaborate with detailed lithography, elaborate shapes and beautiful script and by 1881 they were printing over 5 million cards for export to America each Christmas season. They ceased export to America by in 1890 as cheaper made German cards became available. Today the highly detailed lithography and silk trim on these early Prang and Mayer cards make them a favorite with collectors.
A study of Christmas cards through the 20th Century offers insight into the trends and social issues of their time period. Many of the cards from the early part of the century were post cards. Some featured Santa and his elves, but the larger part were decorated with flowers and nature scenes. By the 1920s cards with envelopes reappeared, and the cards were often hand painted with a highly stylized Art Deco appeal. Cards from the 1930s addressed the serious issues of Prohibition and the Great Depression or attempted to lift the spirits with whimsical cards featuring the characters from early animated feature films.
Patriotism was the theme as America went to war in the 1940s. Cards with text expressing a hope for peace were common as were a series of cards made especially for our men and women in uniform.
Christmas cards from the post war years of the 50s reflected the optimism and energy of the decade with their light hearted text and abstract designs. The 50s also saw the introduction of humorous cards, some of which were quite risque for their time. The 1960s brought us peace signs and psychedelic art and in the 1970s the favorite theme was home and hearth.
Card senders of the 1980s were a health conscious group. As a result you will notice that Santa is much slimmer in the 80s than in previous years. New Age designs and high tech themes  filled the card-sending needs of the single crowd, while it seemed that everyone with a family was sending out cards with studio pictures of their clan.
Very early cards can be a challenge to find and are sometimes a little pricey. However, you will find an abundance of cards from the last half of the 20th Century at your local antique malls, often by the box. These are inexpensive to purchase, fun to send and a great way to wish your loved ones a Merry Christmas. Until next time . . . . Linda

Linda Kennett is a profession liquidation consultant specializing in senior downsizing and the liquidation of estates and may be reached at 317-258-7835 or