Cultures have enjoyed sharing written New Year’s greetings for centuries. The English-speaking ritual of sending holiday cards, however, dates back only to the middle of the 19th century.
Some sources say it originated with Thomas Shorrock, of Leith, Scotland, who, in the 1840s, produced cards showing a jolly face with the caption “A Gude Year to Ye.” a Guid New Year
Credit more commonly goes to Sir Henry Cole, who would later become the first director of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.
He commissioned an artist to create 1,000 engraved holiday cards in 1843. Cole’s greeting featured a prosperous-looking family toasting the holidays, flanked on both sides by images of kindly souls engaging in acts of charity.
A caption along the bottom read, “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You.”
The world’s first commercially produced Christmas card, designed by John Callcott Horsley for Henry Cole in 1843
With advances in printing technology and mail service, the practice of sending commercially produced Christmas cards caught on.
By the 1880s, it was an integral part of the holiday season for many American families as well. In “The Female World of Cards and Holidays: Women, Families, and the Work of Kinship,” Yale anthropologist Micaela di Leonardo explains that the practice thrived amid postbellum industrialization and the demise of the family farm.
As relatives spread out geographically, women assumed responsibility for “the work of kinship” and became caretakers of extended family connections. Christmas cards were a convenient way for them to nurture relationships among their husbands, children, and distant relatives.
As the Christmas card habit took hold, manufacturers rushed to meet demand. Best known was German emigrant Louis Prang, who produced attractive and reasonably priced chromolithographed cards for the mass market. He is often referred to as the father of the American Christmas card.
Not all manufacturers were as concerned with quality. Many of them relied on trite and overly sentimental images to decorate their greetings.
In 1885, The Decorator and Furnisher magazine criticized the industry for its ubiquitous imaginings of “pantaletted young ones” singing in snowstorms and “angels floating in mid-air bearing a baby.
Such tiresome subjects, the article lamented, created “no agreeable sensations.” Also troublesome were the poor production values.
That same year, The Art Amateur magazine faulted a British manufacturer for offering a card that featured the image of a cherub whose head was “too intangibly connected with her body even for a disembodied spirit.”
Industry critics predicted that the American public would soon tire of Christmas cards. But then, in the early 1900s, improvements in image reproduction technology allowed the greeting-card market to surge to new heights.
In 1900, The British Medical Journal applauded a new series of Christmas cards with “platino-panel reproductions” that resembled photographic prints. The variety of subjects featured on the new cards also increased—sporting themes, landscapes, and patriotic drawings of men in regimental uniforms.
One panel of a folder for a tea merchant. This is an amazingly creative piece of work, with letters formed from “printers flowers” and border elements, and the letters made structural parts of a scene constructed in Oriental style metal type elements:
Combination Chinese Border Series 91, Patented January 18, 1881 by MacKellar, Smiths & Jordan, designed and cut by William W. Jackson.
Letterpress “type pictures”—scenes constructed from metal type elements—became particularly common during the 1870s and 1880s, especially with the popularity of Oriental, Egyptian, Assyrian, Moorish, Chinese and Japanese motif type elements.
(During that era, lithographers also produced Oriental, etc. themed pieces, but I am here focusing on work done by typesetters/letterpress printers.)
As with all “creative” arrangements of type, the quality varied. Some typesetters created lively and interesting scenes, while less talented workers seemed to have thrown together elements rather randomly.
There is a lot of cringingly poor work out there to be found.
Trade card. This printer, Harding, put together a little scene unusual in that five colors were used.
Most of the metal type elements are from Combination Chinese Border Series 88, Patented September 30, 1879 by MacKellar, Smiths & Jordan, designed and cut by William W. Jackson.
In 1925, the United States Postal Service began to give airlines contracts to carry air mail all around the country.
A company named Western Air Express applied to be awarded the air mail route from Salt Lake City in Utah to Los Angeles. In April of 1926, Western’s first flight took place with a Douglas M-2 airplane.
The month after, passenger services started.
Trans World Airlines was a major American airline from 1925 until 2001. It was originally formed as Transcontinental & Western Air to operate a transcontinental route from New York City to Los Angeles via St. Louis and Kansas City.
Founded by Howard Hughes in 1926.
Delta Air Lines, Inc. is a major American airline, with its headquarters and largest hub at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia.
The airline and its subsidiaries operate over 5,400 flights daily and serve an extensive domestic and international network that includes 333 destinations in 64 countries.
These hand-tinted Japanese postcards are part of an exhibit titled “The Traveler’s Eye.” The postcards, produced in the early 20th century as Western visits to Japan increased in volume, show off the skills of Japan’s photo colorists.
The art of hand-tinting photographs, write the curators of a Harvard exhibit on the early photography of Japan, while first introduced in Europe, “became more refined and widespread” on the archipelago.
Many Japanese artists who had been employed by ukiyo-e woodblock studios found new employment with photographers when the popularity of photos pushed woodblocks out of fashion.
Although several nice versions of this Prichard & Knoll trade card with novelty fish lettering were produced in the later 19th century, you might say they are now endangered.
These two came from the same dealer and recently sold at auction for handsome sums. They are equally nice, however the first card has much finer detail held in the rainbow trout artwork and fish lettering.
It was printed by Stahl & Jaeger Artistic Lithographers in NYC. The second card has the name reversed and several alternate letters, along with some clever wave-like handlettered text with flourishes below the fish which add to its appeal.
They each have an eel ampersand.
Directly below is another unrelated trade card from 1871 with similar novelty lettering of fish.
This particular card from Fisher Ice Boxes and Refrigerators of Chicago, found here, is sporting an amphibious eel for the letter S. Although this Fisher card is nowhere near as elaborate as the two above, the artist did provide some level of detail to the three-colored fish.
I guess the imaginative art of fish lettering requires a fine line and some reel angling, just like fishing.
Postcards are extremely popular to collectors because they portray a lot of subjects, from picturesque landscapes to portraits of famous people. They can even portray various forms of art, architecture and events.
Postcards may also be considered as indicators of history, but it all depends on the determining factors that a certain postcard portrays.
There are lots of people who appreciate the value of postcards, which is why many of them collect postcards as a hobby.
Postcard collecting is technically known as deltiology, and is now considered one of the popular collectible hobbies.
Theodore Hooke posted the first picture postcard in 1840. It was a hand painted postcard depicting the post office and its workers (see above).
Apparently, it was Theodore Hooke himself who posted it as a practical joke, as it featured caricatures of the postal office workers themselves.
The American postal card was first conceptualised and patented by John P. Charlton in 1861. He eventually sold the rights to Hymen Lipman, who added borders to the postal cards.
These cards though, did not contain images and were known as “Lipman’s Postal Cards”.
A few years later, Leon Besnardeau made another picture postcard version. The postcard, became the first picture postcard in Britain.
It depicts emblematic images on one side of the postcard. However, there is no existing evidence indicating Leon Besnardeau mailed this postcard without an envelope. The postcard contains an inscription reading “War of 1870. Camp Conlie. Souvenir of the National Defence. Army of Brittany”.
A year after Britain’s first picture postcard was created, the first picture postcard that served as a souvenir came from Vienna. The following year, the first advertising card was distributed in Great Britain. In 1874, the first German postcard became available to the public.
In 1873, Morgan Envelope Factory was the first to develop the American postcard. In the same year as well, John Creswell, who was the postmaster during that time, presented the first pre-stamped postcards.
The main function of these postcards was to make a convenient means for people to easily send notes.
Two decades later, the post office created the first postcard souvenir to inform the masses of the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. This boosted the sales of the postcards. In 1880s as well, the cards depicting other forms of images became extremely popular. This has led to the “Golden Age” of postcards until the 1890s.
Postcards became popular especially during the early 1900s, when postcard publishing companies printed images of buildings and other structures.
In 1908 alone, there were approximately 700 million postcards mailed. Almost two decades later came the “white border” era. This era featured postcards with white borders around them.
Eventually the “white border” era was replaced by the “linen card” era, which took place in the early 1930s. These linen cards feature a texture similar to linen cloth. This ‘linen card’ trend lasted until the 1950s.