The Henry Ford
Henry Ford Museum Greenfield Village IMAX Theatre Benson Ford Research Center Ford Rouge Factory Tour
Explore & Learn

pic archive  

Christmas Card, c. 1940

December 2003

American Christmas Cards
December. The time of the year in which many folks bake cookies, scout out sales, and endlessly address holiday cards. Some purchase cards at the stationery store each year. Thousands of families line up by the fireplace and pose for a photo that will proudly decorate a holiday card--a traditional greeting since at least 1940. Americans who do send out holiday cards are participating in a centuries-old European tradition of trading greetings and good cheer in a personal note around the arrival of the new year.


MORE: American Christmas Cards


Some found this correspondence to be rather time-consuming. In 1843, one enterprising Englishman named Henry Cole had the brilliant stroke of contracting with a local printer to produce a hand-colored card with a cheery greeting to which he could simply sign his name and send off. These printed holiday cards were an instant success. It took just a few years for the Americans to produce pre-printed holiday greetings. By 1860, Boston entrepreneur Louis Prang offered colored cards. Chromolithography, a lithographic process allowed cards to be printed in beautiful colors, spurred the production of ornate pieces. By the 1880s, ordinary folks could afford brightly-printed holiday greetings. And those with a quirky sense of humor could find just the right comic card to send as well!

The Henry Ford's collection of holiday cards is very large, numbering over 5000 ranging in date from about 1860 to the present. American card designers have continued to offer a huge array of designs to fit every taste and economic circumstance. War time issues gravely affected card design and patriotic motifs and somber greetings were a regular feature found on cards during the Second World War.

In addition to traditional seasons greetings, our collections also contain some surprising holiday cards. Funky art deco-inspired cards, modern avant-garde artwork, or cards featuring airplanes and rockets were printed decades ago. Just as today, for every interest and sensibility, there was a seasonal greeting. There's nothing new under the sun.

We hope you'll continue to enjoy our "pic of the month" in 2004. We look forward to sharing more things from our collections that offer a different perspective on American life and times, yesterday and today.

print version

Nancy E.V. Bryk, Curator


Copyright © 2015 The Henry Ford
The Henry Ford is an AAM accredited institution. The complex is an independent, non-profit, educational
institution not affiliated with the Ford Motor Company or the Ford Foundation.