|Though of a slightly later period this lovely
floral card is reminiscent of the early Christmas
Cards created by Louis Prang
The United States Postal Service had been created back in 1775 with Benjamin Franklin as its first Postmaster General. By the early 1800s the USPS relied on a system of horse, coach and steamboat delivery to carry an every increasing volume of correspondence as the country expanded.
And at no time of the year was that volume as critical as it was as the Christmas season approached. People sent handmade greetings to family and friends spread out throughout the continent and often with the increase of immigration, overseas. The workload was so bad in 1822 that the Superintendent of Post in Washington D.C. complained that he would have to hire 16 additional postmen. Fearful of future bottlenecks in delivery he petitioned Congress to restrict the exchange of cards by post at Christmas time. He issued the dire warning that the Service would grind to a halt if this sort of thing kept up.
Poor man – it was of course only the beginning. Once ready-made Christmas greetings became the rage the flood of cards was to become beyond the poor Superintendent’s wildest imaginings. Though ready-made cards had been introduced in England in 1843 they didn’t become fashionable in North America until 1875 when German-born lithographer Louis Prang introduced them at his shop in Boston. His first Christmas cards were mostly floral bouquets and except for the odd possible bit of “language of flowers” that was popular in Victorian times had little to do with the season. As time went on what is considered now to be traditional Christmas themes began to appear. He could be thought of as the “father of the American Christmas card”. However by 1890 his cards fell out of favour and were being replaced by the cheaper Christmas-themed penny post cards imported from his native Germany.
The post card – cheaper to make, buy and send – was replacing the elaborate – and expensive – Victorian card as a way of sending Christmas wishes to friends and family. Reflecting the traditions of Yuletide as they were celebrated in Mittel-Europe and were being observed in a Great Britain emulating their Queen and her family. And of course under the influence of the “Motherland” most of her colonies and former colonies followed the customs. They were to become the template of how Christmas was to be observed for much of the English speaking world.
With the coming of the Great War all things Germany were banished and though post cards continued to be sent they had a patriotic theme – on both sides of the barbed wire. By the end of the war post cards were starting to fade from the scene and the older style cards with envelopes returned to favour.
That poor overwhelmed Superintendent would have thrown his hands up in despair at the millions of cards that flooded through the postal system a mere century after his dire prediction.
14 dicembre/December – San Giovanni della Croce