Lori Verderame | Holiday cards have long history

President Ulysses S. Grant made Christmas Day a national holiday in 1870. From that point forward, a Christmas card from the White House was a special keepsake.

While these cards are highly sought-after collectibles, these coveted Christmas cards are rare and do not come to the antiques and collectibles market without a high sales value. Here is a look at some of the facts surrounding the official holiday card from the president of the United States.

President Truman took office after President Roosevelt’s death in April 1945. As World War II came to an end and Christmas was upon the nation, the mood was ripe for a great big holiday celebration.

The Truman White House sent out official yet conservative White House Christmas cards in the early 1950s that featured gold and lithographed images of holly and berries as the imprint with holiday candles and a photo of the White House in winter. It was a glorious and traditional remembrance.

President Eisenhower’s Christmas cards were produced by Joyce C. Hall, of Hallmark, from Kansas City, Mo. Over an eight-year period, Hallmark produced 38 different holiday cards for the White House. Some of these pieces of holiday memorabilia from this era even featured President Eisenhower’s famous oil paintings.

The Kennedy card

Hallmark also produced the Christmas cards — nearly 2,800 of them — for the John F. Kennedy White House in the first years of the 1960s.

The rarest presidential Christmas card is the official White House Christmas cards for 1963, which were never mailed. The 1963 White House Christmas card featured a color photograph of a nativity scene in the East Room. It would have been the first time that a religious image would be pictured on a White House card. Approximately 25 of the 750 Christmas cards had been signed by the president and Mrs. Kennedy before they left for Dallas in late November 1963. Of course, these cards are extremely rare.

The first Christmas cards from President Lyndon Johnson’s administration were sent with a simple design and no date imprint. There was no sentiment on the card in reverence to the passing of Kennedy a short month or so previously.

Official White House Christmas cards from 1964 through 1968 featured trees in keeping with the national beautification campaign put forth by Mrs. Johnson. This program boasted flowers alongside our nation’s highways and tree planting in regional parks.

Great works of art featuring images of the White House by important American painters became the focus of official White House Christmas cards distributed during the late 1960s and the 1970s during the Nixon, Ford and Carter administrations respectively. These cards highlighted the concern for the environment and supporting the arts.

Over the eight years that the Reagans celebrated Christmas in the White House, they sent approximately 6,500 cards out annually. Select American artists painted images of the White House at holiday time and the first of these cards was Christmas Eve at the White House by American master, Jamie Wyeth.

For the White House Christmas cards in 1994, first lady Hillary Clinton hired artist Thomas McKnight to design the card featuring the White House’s famous Red Room. McKnight’s composition included a Christmas tree, Socks the family cat, a saxophone beneath the tree, American flag stockings and images of the Washington monument and Jefferson memorial visible through a nearby window. There were 250,000 holiday cards printed on recycled paper that were sent by President Bill Clinton.

First lady Laura Bush enlisted the help of both Hallmark and the Texas-born artist Adrian Martinez to paint a White House-themed presidential Christmas card in the early days of the 21st Century. Martinez painted a scene of the interior of the White House that was elegant in gold, white and silver.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the first lady selected Psalm 27:3 and an inscription for the cards that read: “May happiness be yours during this season of goodwill and may the New Year bring peace on Earth. 2001.”

For the White House, Hallmark printed 870,000 Christmas cards. In 2005, an image of the exterior of the White House with the Bush’s dogs frolicking in the snowy landscape was featured on the card.

The Christmas cards from the Obama White House differed from those sent out by the Clintons and the Bushes. For the Obamas, there were no artist renditions of the White House interiors nor were there Bible passages. President Barack Obama’s Christmas Card for 2009 did not mention Christmas but simply read “Season’s Greetings 2009” with an image of a wreath at its center.

The White House card remains a desired keepsake and an important, collectible symbol of our unity as a nation as we celebrate the holidays. Happy holidays!