Christmas Stamps / Seals

Seals became popular early in the 20th century and have been issued on a yearly basis by many countries since that time. Christmas seals from the American Red Cross/American Lung Association are the most well known in the US but many others exist from around the world. These were used to solicit funds to help many charities.

The first stamp with a Christmas connection, although not targeted for use on Christmas mail, was the 1898 Canada stamp that had the word Xmas and the date of issue printed on it. The first stamp issued for Christmas mailings in Canada did not come until 1964. The first US Christmas stamp was issued in 1962. The pre-1965 issues are relatively small in number. Christmas V-mail and airgraphs were popular during WWII with a wide variety of Christmas motifs. Christmas-theme pictorial cancels were used by many countries many years before Christmas stamps were available.

Christmas Photos Stereo Cards

photostereo1If you are looking for a real glimpse of Christmases past, photographs are your best bet. They can capture both the fantasy and the reality of the holiday.

Cabinet photos of Christmas in the home are the most difficult to find. They are usually in the range of 4″ by 5″ to 8″ by 10″, mounted on grey or tan cardboard mounts, and produced by professional photographers who had to bring a large tripod-mounted camera into the home. They were relatively expensive at the time and are still expensive as collectors’ items. A large format photo of a late 19th or early 20th century home Christmas scene is a real treasure and a record of what was found both on and under the tree.

Probably the source of photos with the greatest variety is the photo postcard. The earliest are commercially produced greeting cards bearing scenes that were staged in photo studios using costumed actors. Some of the best are the hand-tinted French or German postcards that feature long-bearded old men who really look the part of Father Christmas. They are also a great source of images of period toys. Real photo postcards also show up as one-of-a-kind home snapshots of the kids in front of the Christmas tree. Eastman Kodak introduced a folding bellows camera in 1903 that allowed anyone to make a postcard. The roll of film was mailed to the Kodak labs to be printed directly onto photo paper that was pre-printed with a postcard back.

photostereo3Stereo views are limited in terms of variety but are available in relatively large numbers because many were mass-produced in the 19th and early 20th centuries. A large collection of Christmas-themed stereographs may still be fewer than fifty cards. However, because of the third-dimensional factor, the stereoscope is also a great time-machine to take the user back to the place that is pictured and allow him or her to visually move into the scene and study it in detail. Unfortunately, because of the demands of the equipment and the glass-plate negatives, most of these are staged scenes – often with painted backdrops rather than real rooms. The spontaneity and authenticity of a snapshot is lost in order to gain the illusion of reality that a good stereo view can provide. And what is Christmas without a healthy dose of illusion?

Christmas Scraps Chromos

‘Chromos’ is a shortened form of Chromolithography, the nineteenth century technique of color printing. Unlike contemporary four-color offset printing, with chromolithography, each color of an image is printed with a separate lithographic stone. The beauty of the chromolithographed image is the result of the skill and artistry of the printmaker’s interpretation of the image to be printed. ‘Scraps’ refers to the wildly popular Victorian fad of sheets of lithographed, embossed, and die-cut images that were sold to be cut, composed and pasted into books, hence the term ‘scrapbook’.

The scope of subject matter depicted on scraps was limited only by the Victorian imagination, and for the Christmas collector, the attraction to scraps lies in the beautiful renderings of innumerable Christmas motifs. Scraps were not only pasted into books. Those that were printed on heavier paper were popularly turned into Christmas tree ornaments. With a bit of tinsel and some blown-glass beads, a scrap ornament lends a Christmas tree not just sparkle, but also rich color and intricate detail. Scraps were a useful addition to any homemade ornament that could use decorative enrichment – Santa scraps were even applied to Christmas cookies!

Christmas Cards Postcards

The recognized “Golden Age” of postcards in America was from around the turn of the 20th century until World War I, although they have been printed since 1870. Postcards were sent for many holidays and occasions, Christmas, birthdays, St. Patrick’s Day, Halloween, etc. They were used to connect with friends and relatives near and far in the pre-telephone days. Many of the most beautiful postcards were printed in Germany and World War I interrupted the flow of cards to the US. Many people’s interest in collecting postcards was sparked from finding postcard albums from their parents or grandparents.

Christmas postcards are among the most beautiful, and common illustrations were of children, Santa Claus, animals, trees and gifts. Some postcards contained photographs as opposed to illustrations. Postcards are among the least expensive categories of Christmas collectibles, with good quality examples available for under $10.00. Many postcards were produced as series and collectors enjoy pursuing all cards of the same series. Cards signed by specific artists command higher prices.