Christmas card, showing small girls dressed for winter, 1887

Collection Type

  • Ephemera

Date

1887

Location Note

Jewett Family Christmas cards

GUSN

GUSN-197408

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Description

Christmas card depicting a group of small girls in coats, hats and boots and one with a muff. Card reads: "A Hearty Christmas To You All!"

Details

Descriptive Terms

girls
winter
greeting cards
Christmas cards

Additional Identification Number

DigitalID 002250
AccessID 4215
Other identifier HNEDID-002250

Physical Description

1 greeting card

Collection Code

EP001

Collection Name

Ephemera collection

Reference Code

EP001.05.TMP.029

Date Notes

1887

Record Details

Originator

Louis Prang & Co. (Publisher)

Material Type

greeting cards
Christmas cards

Description Level

Item

Location Note

Jewett Family Christmas cards

Historical/Biographical Note

Historical/Biographical Note

Born in Breslau (now Wroclaw, Poland) in 1824, Louis Prang came to the United States in 1850 after he was forced to leave Germany following the 1848 German revolutions. He found employment at printing companies in New York and Boston. In 1856, he co-founded a printing firm in Roxbury, Mass. with Julius Mayer, and by 1860 he had purchased full control of the company. During the Civil War, his firm produced maps of battles, scenes of military life, and portraits of Union officers. Prang perfected new methods of lithographic printing using metal plates--sometimes as many as twenty for a given print.

Prang began producing Christmas cards in America in 1875, and his mass produced cards helped turn the holiday greetings into a universal custom. Before this, Christmas cards had been exported from Britain and other European countries, but the custom was not widespread in America and few cards were produced locally. Early Christmas cards were small and often featured flowers, birds, and other decorative designs. Only later did "Christmas" motifs like holly, Christmas trees, and Santa Claus begin to show up on the cards.

Prang believed that the new methods of mass production were an opportunity to bring "art and good taste into the lives of the masses," and made an effort to enlist the best contemporary artists to work on his projects. In 1880, he sponsored the first in a number of open competitions for Christmas card designs, offering considerable prizes to the winners. These competitions attracted prominent artists to work on his cards and resulted in extensive publicity for his product line. By 1890, however, competition from cheap imported cards led him to cease producing Christmas cards entirely.

The quality of Prang's cards won him praise on both sides of the Atlantic. London art critic Gleeson White wrote in 1894 that "it would be a somewhat difficult task to find a dozen examples published in England that could be set forward as worth rivals to the best dozen of the Boston cards" produced by the Prang.

(Sources: Truettner, William H. and Roger B. Stein. Picturing Old New England: Image and Memory. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of American Art, 1999.; Buday, George. The History of the Christmas Card. London: Spring Books, 1954.; Restad, Penne. "Christmas in 19th Century America" History Today vol. 45, no. 12 (November 30, 1995), p. 13-19.)