Family’s postcards make Christmas display

by Juanita Lovret
Reprinted courtesy of the Tustin News

This Christmas postcard is from the Genevieve Whitney collection at the Tustin Area Museum. Postcard greetings which could be mailed for a penny were popular in the early 1900s

Although the Christmas card is said to have been created in England in 1843, Louis Prange is considered to be the first to print and market a holiday card in the U.S. in 1874. The idea of sending greeting cards to friends and family for Christmas caught on and 10 years later his shop in Rosbury, Mass., was selling 5 million a year.

The popularity of Christmas greeting cards continued to grow during the Victorian years, fueled by the introduction of the Christmas postcard. The U.S. Post Office Department issued America’s first postal card which sold for one cent on May 13, 1873. Privately printed cards with no connection to the post office continued to be identified as postcards or souvenir cards and required a two-cent postage stamp.

Souvenir cards with photos of the Columbian Exposition and the city of Chicago were a big hit with the visitors traveling to the exposition in 1893. After the cost of the postage was dropped to one cent for both the prepaid postal cards and postcards in 1898, the decorative postcard became even more popular. Soon there were postcards with appropriate greetings for each holiday as well as birthdays and special events. Many were beautiful while others were cartoon style with humorous messages.

Until 1907 the back of the postcard was reserved for the address. Any message had to be written on the front side. The divided back postcard was introduced in 1907.

Most of the greeting postcards including those for Christmas were printed in Germany for export to the United States. German printers excelled at using intricate embossing techniques, high caliber art work, superior inks, expensive lithographic processes and even novelty additions such as glitter, ribbons, metal, silk and feathers. Unfortunately World War I in 1915 brought an end to these lovely cards.

In America, Albert M. Davis received a New Year’s greeting card with a verse by Charles Dickens in 1906. He felt that this was the kind of sentiment that the American public needed. He found similar verses and then wrote six verses himself. He published them in postcard format and sold them for five cents each. The following year he published 40 cards, 16 of which were Christmas cards, and founded the A.M. Davis Co., which is often considered the forerunner of the greeting card business in the United States.

Many families saved the postcards they received on holidays and special occasions. These were placed in beautiful albums and became showpieces with a place of honor on the parlor table.

Fortunately, Genevieve Whitney, an early and longtime Tustin resident, left several albums filled with postcards to the Tustin Area Museum which is displaying a number of those created for Christmas.


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