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Christmas Card Origins in Albany, New York

Last Updated by Danielle Sanzone on
America's First Christmas Card
Manchester Metropolitan University

As you and your family enjoy the holiday cards you’ve received this season – digital cards, handmade cards, and photos of relatives and friends – you may reflect upon how this festive tradition started. The origins of the popularity of these Christmas correspondence staples trace back to early in Queen Victoria’s reign and the first American Christmas card was printed in Albany, New York.

Queen Victoria wed German-born Prince Albert in 1840 – you can watch their romance from the beginning in a new Masterpiece program called Victoria starting Sunday, January 15, 2016 at 9pm – and it was in 1848 that the Illustrated London News published a drawing of the royal family around a decorated tree, which was something Albert grew up with Germany. It was five years before the illustration that an artist was commissioned in England to design a card for Christmas.

Around this time across the pond in New York State, in December 1842, Albany merchant Richard H. Pease used a woodcut image of Santa Claus to advertise for his Great Variety Store. This was published in the Albany Evening Journal. It was sometime between 1847 and 1850 that Pease printed the first Christmas card in America. It was a lithograph showing a family surrounded by holiday gifts, food and drink with “To” and “From” at the bottom of the image, according to the Albany Institute of History and Art.

From drawings and lithographs to e-cards and colorful cards of puppies in Santa hats, the holiday card has evolved but the spirit of giving, friendship, and holiday cheer remain today.

You can learn more about the Capital Region with a new book and online exhibit from the Albany Institute of History and Art entitled New York’s Capital Region in 50 Objects.

Watch Victoria on WMHT Sundays starting January 15 at 9pm. See a free preview at the Albany Institute Thursday, December 29, 2016 at 5:15pm and 6:30pm.

 

Image:

America’s First Christmas Card

Designed by Elisa Forbes

Printed and published by Richard H. Pease, Albany, New York

c. 1849–1850

Lithograph on paper

Courtesy of the Manchester Metropolitan University Special Collections