History of Christmas Cards

Christmas Cards by the Decade
1900 - 1910's

American Publishers
War Time Cards

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The card illustrated was published by L.F. Pease, 258 Laurel St, Buffalo, N.Y.

Production of the modern Christmas card got its start at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The U.S. Post Office granted Charles Goldsmith a license to print illustrated souvenir cards of the fair on U.S. postals. The modern greeting card industry began soon after. In the early 1900's companies such as A.M. Davis, Hall Brothers, Inc (later renamed Hallmark Cards), American Greetings, Rust Craft and Buzza were established. Rust Craft was founded by Fred Rust, a small bookstore owner who printed his first card in Kansas City, MO in 1906. This is claimed to be the first card designed to be mailed in an envelope. Others entering the publishing field were Alfred Bartlett, Paul Volland and the Gibsons. Quality later began to reappear in the American greeting card market. These early century publishers began their businesses publishing very simply designed cards. They were mostly text with very little embellishments, perhaps a few leaves of holly, an ornamental border, or highlighted initial letter of the text. They believed it was the sentiment, in verse or prose, that sold the card.

A Few American Publishers

World War I Era Cards

Christmas card designs over time have featured the lifestyles of their times, as well as traditional themes. They have been a reflection of our social life, habits, pastimes, dress, and inventions. After the turn of the century Christmas cards began to have zeppelins, aeroplanes and motorcars on them. Sail ships gave way to steamers. During war times battleships were featured on Christmas cards.

Prior to WWI most Christmas cards were of German import. With the outbreak of war the market was closed to German imports. This gave American companies like Hall Brothers, A.M. Davis, Buzza, Gibson, and Rust Craft the opportunity to fill the shelves and develop into well-established publishers. Wartime and the spirit of Christmas are at two opposite ends of emotions and feelings. These card publishers had to be very sensitive at how to express the wishes of the season when people were being separated and thrust into the horrors of war.

The sending of Christmas cards during WWI was at first banned for security reasons and to conserve paper "for the war effort". But it was later encouraged by the government as a way to help boost the morale of the troops and publishers were rationed paper for this purpose. Cards sent at Christmas, the loneliest time to be away from home, became a symbol of hope for both sender and receiver; a hope for peace. However, economizing was important to many people and they considered Christmas cards a luxury and could be done without. Instead, parcels were sent to the front until they were bared to conserve shipping facilities for military needs.

During WWI the mood of Christmas cards changed from the decadence of the Edwardian period to more simple designs. Many cards had a patriotic theme and were embellished with red, white, and blue ribbons or cords. Doughboys appeared on postcards, which had just peaked in popularity. Some regiments issued their own cards for soldiers to send back home. Those soldiers on the front lines and in the trenches didn't always have an opportunity to send a printed card, so they hand drew sketches of themselves, camp scenes or holiday scenes and sent those home. Unfortunately, many of the cards produced during the war were pulped for "the war effort", so there aren't too many that survived this period.

The postcard on the right is postmarked 1918. It expresses a soldier's sentimate to loved ones back home.
"Best Christmas Wishes
Uncle Sam has called me,
And I can't be home to say
How much I wish you well
Each hour of Christmas Day."

The card was published by Illustrated Postal card & Nov. Co. N.Y.

After the war, sales of cards slumped, especially patriotic cards, as people wanted to put the war as far behind them as possible. There was a trend instead towards reproducing famous paintings. The quality of cards increased and were of higher artistic standard.

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