If you are among the 292,940,000 Americans not included on the prestigious presidential Christmas card list--welcome to the club. Twenty-five years ago, my husband, Ron and I did not even know an official White House Christmas card existed. One day walking down Connecticut Avenue, in Washington DC, Ron came upon a political memorabilia shop. Because we used to entertain a lot around the holidays, he inquired of the proprietor, “do you have anything that pertains to Christmas?” The owner, Nelson Whitman, thought for a moment, and asked if a Christmas gift from President Nixon would do? He returned with a stately photograph of George Washington in a red velour folder. That was Ron’s first encounter with a presidential Christmas card. What a novel idea! We both love Christmas and thought it would be fun to see how many cards from the president we could collect.
At first we began to collect only the “large cards,” not bothering with the “small ones.” We learned that the “large cards” were called “gift prints,” frameable keepsakes that initially the President and First Lady gave only to their White House staff and family. The small cards were actually the “official” Christmas card of the president and were sent to government officials, ambassadors, heads of state and friends.
In the 1960’s, presidential Christmas cards become political. The political party in office began to pay the bill and the president was able to stay in touch with a vast number of supporters across the country at Christmas. Production increased accordingly: from 1100 in 1953 to over a million Christmas cards in recent years.
In the early years, the artwork on the large gift prints was different from the artwork on the official cards. President Eisenhower’s own paintings were reproduced on his gift prints, while Presidents Ford and Carter used 19th century art. Since the Kennedy administration, American artists were invited to come to the White House to get inspired by its sense of history and create original art to be reproduced on the president’s Christmas card and gift. Shortly thereafter, the same art was used on both the Christmas card and the gift print. We began to add the official Christmas cards to our collection.
As we met other collectors of political memorabilia, we gained a respect for those who sought to preserve and treasure our American heritage. As our knowledge expanded, our collection expanded to incorporate not only greeting cards and gifts, but tangible gifts, such as books, bookmarks, paperweights, plates, photographs, items of pewter that the president gave to his staff at Christmas. Only recently were we made aware that George and Laura Bush gave custom ornaments as Christmas gifts. Each new discovery gave us a greater appreciation and a desire to know more about the families in the White House.
Are you a collector? Why not return to the days of your youth and embark upon an adventure that will enrich your life. Whether you collect presidential cards or White House ornaments or signed books, we want to help you get started with a stimulus package designed with a collector in mind.