America’s First Christmas Card

Our modern Santa Claus is a product of the Hudson River Valley. In the seventeenth century, the Dutch brought to the valley their Sinterklaas, which later merged with Father Christmas and the popular fourth-century Saint Nicolas, the Greek Bishop of Myra. But during the nineteenth century, three individuals firmly connected this figure to the holiday season: Clement Clarke Moore and his poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” publishedin the Troy Sentinel in 1823; Washington Irving, who wrote several Christmas stories; and, Thomas Nast, whose illustrations established the appearance of Santa Claus that we all recognize today.

Little known, however, is the Albany merchant named Richard H. Pease, who linked Santa Claus to the burgeoning consumerism that marked the nineteenth century, and which continues to be a defining characteristic of the holiday. In the December 17, 1842, issue of the Albany Evening Journal, Pease used a woodcut image of Santa Claus to advertise the gift wares sold at his Great Variety Store. The same illustration appeared a week later in the Albany Argus. Years later, Pease established another first; he printed the first Christmas card in America. A small lithograph showing a family surrounded by holiday gifts, food and drink, and Pease’s store (then called the Temple of Fancy), this first American Christmas card was probably printed for the 1849–1850 holiday season, although it could have been printed as early as 1847, the year he opened his store. Pease operated his variety store only until 1855 before selling the inventory and turning over the building to his son, Harry E. Pease.

 

Magnifying Glass
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
Magnifying Glass
Pease’s Great Variety Store Advertisement
From the Albany Argus
December 23, 1842
Woodcut on paper
Albany Institute of History & Art, newspaper collection