Since the establishment of the Print Department in 1916 there has been a clear mission to gather all types of printed material ranging from Rembrandt's magnificent and widely collected etchings to the more ephemeral, which includes, among many others things, American and European trade and calling cards, bookplates, illustrated catalogues, and even greeting cards.
The collection of Jefferson R. Burdick (1900–1963), in particular, brought to the department in the 1950s over 300,000 printed ephemera, or printed paper that is not meant to survive because it is ruined and disposed of by the masses that used these objects in their everyday lives.
Burdick's vast collection includes all manner of advertising materials from baseball cards to wartime propaganda that were inserted into commercial goods as well as a significant number of early American Christmas cards (many printed in Germany, because of their specialization in commercial color lithography and card making). These dimly remembered cards, first produced in the mid-nineteenth century in England, are organized in a dizzying number of albums by Burdick, can be sweet, vivid, brash, or poignant, and are often very funny.
With over 3,000 designs to her name, the American illustrator Ellen Hattie Clapsaddle's (1865–1934) imagery was often populated with children engaging in fanciful seasonal situations, such as the young girl telephoning Santa shown above. Working for the New York based International Art Publishing Company, which specialized in holiday and souvenir cards, Clapsaddle traveled to Germany to further learn the trade and see the printing side of the business which happened there. Although her holiday postcards consistently evoke the syrupy sweetness of Victorian era cards (1837–1901), her own life took a turn when she was caught in Germany at the outbreak of the First World War.
A far cry from Clapsaddle's sentimental examples, the 1950s cards rely on humor related to professional and personal business materials such as: a memo book of season's greetings, a library exclusively concerned with good will, a bank statement from the Bank of Happiness, a voucher owing the recipient 365 days of confidence and loyalty, and volumes of encyclopedia that promise sincere good wishes that cannot be surpassed even by likes of Einstein, Lincoln, Gandhi, Beethoven and the other great men contained in the books.
Continuing in the tradition of our founding curators, the department recently received a generous gift of greeting cards that includes a variety of American Christmas cards from the 1920s.