New York's Capital Region in 50 Objects

New York's Capital Region in 50 Objects


Each region of the nation has its own distinctive history and identity. The New York’s Capital Region—consisting of Albany, Rensselaer, Schenectady, and Saratoga Counties—is no different. But what best identifies the region? What events, objects, people, and ideas have contributed to its character and uniqueness?

To learn the answers, we presented these questions to the numerous museums, historical organizations, libraries, and residents of the Capital Region. The fifty objects that were ultimately selected present an exciting history of the Capital Region, including well-known favorites but also unexpected surprises. Some of the fifty objects characterize very broad topics like the textile industry and the Hudson River School of art, while others embody large populations of people who shaped the character of the region, such as the Dutch and the Iroquois. Many objects represent specific people or events, such as writer William Kennedy and the Battle of Saratoga. In some instances, the objects represent themselves, like the GE Monitor Top refrigerator and Albany’s beloved Nipper statue. A complementary image accompanies each of the fifty objects, providing context and additional information.

Overall, the fifty objects clearly demonstrate that this narrowly circumscribed part of New York State has played an astonishing role in shaping the history of the nation and, in several instances, the world beyond the confines of our national borders.

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.

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

Pease’s Great Variety Store Advertisement

From the Albany Argus

December 23, 1842

Woodcut on paper

Albany Institute of History & Art, newspaper collection

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