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The Collectors

Historians owe more to collectors than we usually recognize. Collectors are men and women of purpose and passion. They fall in love with a person or category or theme. They pursue and accumulate books, papers and artifacts—the memorabilia that symbolize and illuminate the objects of their affection. In doing so, they enrich the historical record and very often rescue evidence that might otherwise have vanished down the memory hole.
-Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.

The SeeleysSeason’s Greetings from the White House began, as it should have, in Washington DC, many years ago. It was pushed into being, as it should have been, by an inveterate collector, my husband Dr. Ronald Seeley. It was written because it should have been written—but wasn’t. If you can’t understand how I ended up being the one to write it, you don’t know what it is like being married to an avid collector.

The first item he purchased on a medical convention trip to the nation’s capital was a red velour presentation folder containing the portrait of George Washington. A gift from President and Mrs. Nixon to a White House employee, it eventually found its way into the political memorabilia shop where Ron found it. When he showed it to me that afternoon, he was excited; he was enthusiastic; his mood was contagious. Soon, I too, was learning everything that I could about Presidential Christmas cards and gifts, and our quest began in earnest.

Along the way, we had the good fortune to meet Raleigh DeGeer Amyx of American Heritage Autographs and Collectibles. We were frankly overwhelmed by his careful preservation and beautiful presentation of American historical artifacts; his dedication to his work inspired us to continue our pursuit. Within a short time, we had acquired a Christmas gift book signed by William McKinley in 1900, Christmas cards and gift prints signed by many other later Presidents including the rare Creche Card signed by President and Mrs. Kennedy just days before the assassination—and Presidential gift items made of wood, pewter, sterling silver, leather, glass and even yarn.

In time, the Seeley Collection gained us an invitation to the White House from its curator, Rex Scouten. He was especially interested in our early collection prior to President Eisenhower; Ron and I were interested in learning from Mr. Scouten the history of many of our acquisitions. Our discussion of the facts and figures uncovered many discrepancies. Concerned about the accuracy of the of the information in circulation, Mr. Scouten stated: "Someone should write a book to the set the record straight." Ron was the one who knew that I could write such a book; the rest is history.

While I was collecting historical facts about Christmas at the White House, the Collector-in-chief was engrossed in gathering historical Christmas artifacts of the President and First Lady. Dr. Seeley has collected various things since starting as a boy growing up in Nebraska: Baseball cards, a coin collection, an extensive eye spectacle and eye wash cup collection, a fossil and quartz collection from the mountains of Colorado and an oil lamp collection from Israel.

A portion of The Seeley Collection of Presidential Christmas Memorabilia has been on display at ten presidential libraries since 1996. They include the Richard Nixon Presidential Library, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library, the Dwight Eisenhower Presidential Library, the Franklin Roosevelt Presidential Library, the Hubert Hoover Presidential Library, the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library, The Lyndon Johnson Presidential Library, the Harry Truman Presidential Library, and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. Several other institutions and museums have also hosted the Seeley Collection, most recently, the Orlando Museum of Art.

Dr. Seeley enjoys sharing his knowledge and stories of recent acquisitions. Much of this knowledge has been gained through personal research and learning from other collectors. He is continually looking for rare and unusual Christmas artifacts to add to The Seeley Collection. Items featured in the book, Season’s Greetings from the White House, but not listed for sale on the website, may still be available for purchase. For further information regarding availability, contact .

Christmas Cards and Gifts of the Presidents

The 1992 Christmas card and gift print.

Collector Card 1Collected here are more than 80 years of Presidential Christmas cards and gifts dating back to Calvin Coolidge, who started many of today's White House holiday traditions. During those early years, the Christmas cards of First Families were personal, often accompanying a gift. If the cards bore any art at all, it most likely was a photograph of the White House or the First Family. Today's cards are far more elaborate and usually feature paintings by well-known artists.

The National Christmas Tree by Kamil Kubik.

Shown is a collection of those Presidential cards and gifts with short stories of how they came to be.

  • Which President's card is the rarest of all?
  • What First Family sent the most intimate Official Presidential Card?
  • Which Official Presidential Card was made from a painting that once sold for $7?
  • What First Family had the same painter do all the art for their numerous cards and gift prints?

The Latest Official Presidential Card

Obama Christmas Card 2009

American Greetings created the first official Presidential Christmas card for President and Mrs. Barack Obama in 2009.

The simple but elegant card featured a gold foil-embossed presidential seal surrounded by a gold foil-embossed wreath. The white card stock, selected by the White House, bore the words, "Season's Greetings 2009". A thin burgundy border completed the front of the card. The design is likened to the simple style used by President and Mrs. Dwight Eisenhower throughout their eight years in the White House.

The Obama's holiday message reads: "May your family have a joyous holiday season and a new year blessed with hope and happiness".

The cards were mailed to foreign dignitaries, friends and family and were paid for by the Democratic National Committee. The Obama's chose not to produce a Christmas gift print for their White House staff. President Obama was the first not to do so since the Eisenhower administration.

Obama 2009 Christmas Card

The Rarest Official Presidential Card

Collector Card 3The Creche in the East Room was photographed for the Kennedys' 1963 Official Presidential Card. In mid-November, 500 of them arrived at the White House to be signed by both the President and First Lady. At their convenience over the next few days, Jacqueline Kennedy signed in blue ink, while John F. Kennedy boldly signed in black ink.

By the time the President and Mrs. Kennedy departed for their fateful trip to Dallas, a maximum of 30 of the cards bore their dual signatures. After the President's death, his personal secretary, Evelyn Lincoln, preserved them for posterity. Not located until 1985, these highly prized cards are now in the possession of serious collectors.

The Kennedys (1961-1963)

 

The First Official Presidential Card

Custome Card 4Dwight D. Eisenhower was an amateur painter who often turned to his hobby for refuge from the problems of the world and the weight of the responsibilities of his office. In collaboration with Joyce C. Hall, founder of Hallmark Cards, the President and First Lady sent out a record-setting total of 38 separate holiday cards in their eight Christmases in the White House.

It seemed only natural that President Eisenhower would be the first to have an Official Presidential Card designed. His interest in art went so far as making an art print the standard Christmas gift for his staff. Most years, one of his own paintings was the art for it. Following this Eisenhower practice, every succeeding President and First Lady have likewise given their staff a gift print for Christmas.

The Eisenhowers (1953-1960)

 

The Official Presidential Card Based on a $7 Painting

Custom Card 5In 1976, when it came time for the country's Bicentennial celebration, President and Mrs. Gerald Ford wanted to give a purely patriotic gift print for Christmas. In the Green Room, conveniently enough, hung a painting of Philadelphia in 1858.

Upon investigation, it was found that this painting by Danish artist Ferdinand Richardt was begun in Philadelphia, finished in London and sold to a collector who took it to India. When found at auction in Hyderabad by a New York antiques dealer, the canvas was in what he described as hocking condition. Purchasing it for $7, he sent it to New York, where it was picked up by a local gallery. It has been described as "the greatest bargain in American paintings in the history of the world."

The Fords (1973-1977)

 

A Blue Room Tree by the Most Prolific Official Presidential Card Artist

Custom Card 6Of all the painters of Christmas card art, Robert H. Laessig of American Greetings takes top honors for having the most works reproduced on Presidential cards and gifts. The story begins in 1964, when President and Mrs. Lyndon Johnson were presented with works by six artists from American Greetings. Liking trees combined with softness, the First Lady found what she was looking for in the samples by staff design consultant Laessig.

In an artistic arrangement that lasted all through the Johnson Administration, Laessig did watercolors of the White House and its trees; Washington as seen from the South Portico; and this interior view of the Christmas tree in the Blue Room. It adorned the 1967 Official Presidential Card as well as the gift print.

The Johnsons (1963-1968)

 

The Only Official Presidential Card Featuring the White House on Christmas Eve

Custom Card 7In 1981, President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan selected Jamie Wyeth to do the art for their first Christmas card. Traveling to Washington in September, he wandered about the White House and realized that it was more than a people's museum; it was a President's home. Eventually, he ended up on the lawn, where he began to paint. Deciding to try to do something instructive and different, the painter wanted to symbolize by a single light that this was Christmas Eve at the President's house.

When Wyeth returned to the Executive Mansion with the finished painting to show the President and First Lady, she said it looked like "everyone else had gone to bed and I was still up in my dressing room wrapping presents and doing all those things you do the night before Christmas. I loved it." The painting was used for the 1981 Official Presidential Card and gift print.

The Reagans (1981-1988)

 

The Most Intimate Official Presidential Card

Custom Card 8By 1991, Official Presidential Cards had offered up a number of paintings of the Red Room, the Blue Room and the Green Room. In addition, they had shown the East Room, the State Dining Room, the North Entry Hall and the Oval Office as well.

Always on the lookout for something fresh and different to do, President and Mrs. George Bush decided to open the door to their family quarters for a Christmas card.

Artist Kamil Kubik, working in the second floor Yellow Oval Room with photographs from previous Christmases, created his version of Christmas morning.

In The Family Tree, Upstrairs at the White House, he portrayed a warm, personal scene of the opened presents and the toys of the "grands" scattered around the family's living area.

The GHW Bushes (1988-1992)

 

The Most Contemporary Look                                                  

Custom Card 9Having decided to highlight the house and the feeling that the house has at Christmas, in 1994,

President and Mrs. Clinton chose the popular contemporary artist, Thomas F. McKnight to paint the art for their card. Known for his boldly colorful silkscreens, Mcknight took photographs of the state rooms and returned to his studio in Palm Beach to paint. McKnight offered fantasy interiors of both the Red Room and the Blue Room. McKnight had given them an enchanted almost humorous look, a marked departure from the traditionally formal Red Room and Blue Room scenes of the Kennedy and Reagan Christmas cards. In keeping with his recognizable style, the artist brought the Washington and Jefferson Monuments in full view of one looking out the State Room window. His light source was a dreamy moon, the icon of his work. Both of the images adorned the young First Family’s Christmas cards in 1994 and 1995. McKnight’s painting of the magical Green Room was used as the art for the 1996 official Presidential card and print.

The Clintons

 

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