Vintage Holiday Cards from the Digital Archive
Toronto Public Library's amazing Digital Archive has a large collection of holiday greeting cards. Many of these bits of ephemera (items that are not usually kept for a long time) are over 100 years old. Some are sweet. Some are silly. Some are serious. Thanks largely to the library's Osborne Collection of Early Children's Books, these bits of history escaped the ephemeral fate of most greeting cards.
A general history of holiday cards can be read in Christmas, Inc.: A Brief History of the Holiday Card. Here are some highlights from that article:
- Writing New Year's greetings has happened for hundreds of years.
- Holiday cards in English appeared in the mid-1800s.
- Sending holiday cards grew in popularity with the decline of family farms, when relatives spread out geographically.
- The New York Public Library staged a holiday card exhibit in 1930.
- There has been concern about the commercialism of card buying for many decades.
And now... here are just a few of the holiday cards from the library's Digital Archive:
More than Meets the Eye: Specialty Cards
Pop-up card from 1900 with an illustration of the Crystal Palace (shown closed on the left and opened on the right to reveal a pop-up scene). The card reads "A merry Christmas & happy new year".
Christmas card from 1900 with a small compartment for a bill or large coin, reading "To help to fill your treasure box with best Christmas wishes"
Transparency card from 1910. When held up to the light, it reveals Santa holding a doll. Verse in the middle reads "To wish you a bright and happy Christmas." Verse on bottom of card reads "Look pleasant please and watch me closely / Now hold the postcard to the light / You'll find my photo has developed / And Father Christmas comes in sight." On side of card, it reads "Transparency card. Hold up to the light."
Two images of the same 1880 card (closed left, opened right). The card reads "Greeting / My hope and heart is with thee! / Tennyson / For a very bright Christmas" / Tis Christmastime! Therefore warm greetings take, And every kindly wish, for auld acquaintance' sake From 'Grandma S.'"
German postcard from 1910. The message reads "Gluckliches Neu Jahr", which translates to "Happy New Year".
Front and back of postcard from 1880, with the score and lyrics of "Going to the Party." The top of the front card reads "A merry Christmas".
Greeting card from 1910. Verse on a scroll, surrounded by holly and ivy, reads: "Calm on the listening ear of night come heaven's melodious strains, Where wild Judea stretches far her silver-mantled plains. Celestial choirs from courts above shed sacred glories there: and angels with their sparkling lyres, make music on the air."
Children and the Holidays
Card from 1914, reading "Jan. 1 / Best New Year Wishes"
Christmas card from 1880, reading "With the season's compliments"
Card from 1880, reading "A merry xmas"
Christmas card from 1910, reading "Wishing you a very merry Christmas / Gertrude / Only taught by love to love, / Seems childhood's natural task, / Affection, gentleness and hope, / Are all its brief years ask!"
Christmas card from 1907, reading "Best wishes for a happy Christmas"
Card from 1875, reading "A very merry Christmas"
Card from 1900, reading "Wishing you a very happy year"
Card from 1880, reading "A Happy Christmas"
Christmas card from 1878, on the left is the front image that reads "A merry Christmas and a happy New Year." On the right is the back of the same postcard, reading "Dearest Lettie with fond love and Xmas wishes. 1878."
Card from 1870, reading "Wintry but seasonable. / A merrie Xmas to you all."
Card from 1900, reading "A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year"
'Tis the Season in Toronto
Card from 1900, advertising H. Haag, a Toronto candy shop. It reads "I want Haag's Candies for Christmas. / They are pure, they won't make me sick. / Compliments of the season, / H. Haag, / Baker and confectioner, - 714 Yonge Street".
A card from 1880 that advertises a Toronto store, reading "A merry Christmas to you & yours / Compliments of / J. Blizard & Co. / Toys and games / 49 King St. West / Toronto"
A page from a 1931 catalogue of Christmas cards by Tally Ho! Art Shops in Toronto. The store encouraged you to buy their basic black and white postcards and then colour them in and sell for a profit.
Card from 1919, reading "Toronto / With all good wishes / for Christmas"
Card from 1890, from former Toronto-based newspaper Mail and Empire, reading "A merry Christmas / Two early birds"
Postcard from 1914 of 172 Indian Road in Toronto. At the top it reads "Christmas Greetings". In the bottom left it reads "This / Christmas day / be bright and / gay / with heaps of / fun and toys". In the bottom right it reads "And / may the coming / year be filled / with / happiness / and joys".
Wartime Good Wishes
Card from 1916. Front reads "No. 2 Canadian General Hospital / Christmas 1916. / Normandy 1915 1916 1917". The second page reads "From the high cliffs of Normandy, / To those at Home, / This little Christmas Greeting goes / Full of Faith and hope / That the New Year will bring / 'Peace on Earth'" It's signed "Best wishes for xmas & the new year / from Percy R. Brewer [?]"
Card from 1918
Canadian postcard from 1912, reading "Lieut-Col. Wellington Wallace commanding 14th Infantry Brigade and staff extends to you all the compliments of the season and a happy new year, 1912-1913." The address on the bottom is "120 Spadina Road, Toronto".
Odds and Ends: Jokes, Peculiarities and More
Card from 1908, reading "Don't you remember when you felt like this on Christmas morning?
1911 card belonging to Toronto family. It seems to show a prank on Santa, who has a sign reading "Keep of the grass." The card reads "Merry Christmas and good morning."
Card from 1911, reading "A merry Christmas"
Studio photograph with some hand-colouring, embellishments on dresses. Christmas greeting is in Russian. Inscription date is 1912. Addressed to Mrs. R. Sinclair, 373 Roncesvalles Ave., Toronto.
Card from 1900, reading "Fate send you fatter game than this / A steady aim and ne'er a miss / A merry Christmas"
Card from 1885, reading "Christmas Greeting / May good luck be in store for you when least expected, - like Cinderella"
Card from 1880, reading "In silvery accents, whispering low – A happy, happy Christmastide!"
Want to learn more? Or maybe you're feeling crafty? Check out these books from the Toronto Public Libary:
Greeting Cards (2007)
Let us know in the comments if you keep greeting cards from friends and family -- and if you don't, how long do you wait until you recycle them?