Way Back When: Holiday cards throughout history

Frederick Painton's humorous holiday greeting during the Great Depression.

Frederick Painton's humorous holiday greeting during the Great Depression.


Holiday cards as we know them were popularized in 1843 during Queen Victoria’s reign by an enterprising public servant, Sir Henry Cole.

Cole created the idea of sending decorated holiday greetings through the newly created British Postal System in order to raise public interest in that agency. Like many other social fashions created during the queen’s reign, greeting cards quickly jumped the pond to become popular in America.

Here in Westport, the musuem has many examples of holiday cards, including those handmade by local artists to give to family and friends. These include originals by nationally renowned local artist Robert Lambdin. Each of Lambdin’s cards were personalized for its recipient. One which he drew for his friends, the Fox family, features cartoon foxes, while another depicts a rather plump cat enjoying the partridges from the pear tree on the “13th day of Christmas.”

Local writers also got into the act, lending their talents to holiday greetings. Frederick Painton, a journalist also noted for his pulp fiction writing, penned a humorous holiday greeting during the Great Depression, in which he offered to take friends’ “flops and depressions” on trade for “brand new hopes” and “renewed faith.”

A very recent archival find at the museum is a series of cards by artist Theodor Muller, who lived on Wright Street with his wife Helen and beloved Siamese cats who star in his hand-painted watercolor holiday cards. A notable fine artist who also gained renown as an interior architect with important clients as Laurence Rockefeller, these cards are both charming and whimsical in design.

Sets of Muller’s Siamese cat cards —12 designs in all — have been reproduced by the Westport museum and will be available at its Peggy Jorgensen Gift Shop this holiday season.

For more information visit westporthistory.org. Westport Museum for History & Culture has been a cultural and educational organization dedicated to preserving, presenting and celebrating the history of Westport since its founding in 1889.