Somebody would have done it eventually. We're pretty sure about that. But it happened to be Richard H. Pease who did it first. The owner of the Pease's Temple of Fancy, a famed 19th century Albany variety store and printing operation, appears to be the first person to put have used the image of Santa Claus in advertising.
He's also the person who printed the first Christmas card in the US -- right here in Albany.
Tom Nelson, an exhibitions and graphics designer with The Albany Institute of History and Art wrote a short book about Pease, and says the printer and owner of Albany's successful variety store was the first known person to use the image of Santa in an ad. According to Nelson's book -- Pease's Great Variety Store -- the ad was published in the Albany Evening Journal in 1841 and depicted a Dutch-style Santa "complete with a pack of toys on his back emblazoned with 'From Pease's Broadway'...In the act of descending a chimney to fill the children's stockings, after supplying himself with fancy articles, stationery, cutlery, perfumery, games, toys, etc. at Pease's Great Variety Store."
Here the ad:
Pease's store, which Nelson calls "kind of an upscale five and dime," or a "19th century Crate and Barrel" sold books, toys, games, and a variety of other items. He printed general interest books, children's books and, ten years after the Santa ad appeared, the first Christmas card in the United States.
Courtesy of Manchester Metropolitan University
Tom Nelson says credit for printing the country's first Christmas card often goes to Boston lithographer Louis Prang, but Prang's card wasn't printed until 1870. There are no longer any known copies of Pease's first Christmas card in Albany. The only known version of is in Manchester, England. A collector from England purchased the card and later donated it as part of a collection to the Manchester Metropolitan University. (When you consider that Dickens' original manuscript of A Christmas Carol is in the US, we're still probably ahead.)
The Albany Institute tried to bring the card across the pond for last year's "Temple of Fancy" exhibit, but it would have had to fly over with a courier, which was too expensive. Nelson says there's evidence that a copy was purchased in 1940 in New York City, and it's possible that it was donated to The Smithsonian. Curators there have promised to look for it.
The building where the card was printed -- 516 Broadway, "The Temple of Fancy" -- is still standing at Broadway and Pine. The former home of Pease's lithograph shop is being converted into condos. We're told there's a plaque inside that commemorates the printing of the first Christmas card in the US, but it's not accessible to the public.
Tom Nelson's book, Pease Great Variety Store, is available at the gift shop at The Albany Institute of History and Art.
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