• Mary Evans Seeley

Becoming a Collector

Are you a collector? Why not return to the days of your youth and embark upon an adventure that will change and enrich your life. Do you love Christmas? Then collect Christmas. The first step in becoming a collector is to identify your passion.

If you are among the 326 million Americans not included on the prestigious presidential Christmas card list--welcome to the club. Thirty-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 like to entertain a lot around the holidays, he inquired of the proprietor, “do you have anything that pertains to Christmas?” The owner 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 item of any kind. 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 art that initially the President and First Lady gave only to their White House staff and family. The small cards were actually the “official” White House Christmas card of the president and were sent to government officials, congressmen, ambassadors, heads of state, family and friends.

In the 1960’s, presidential Christmas cards had become political. The political party in office began to pay the bill and the president was able to thank his vast number of supporters across the country at Christmas. Production increased accordingly: from 1100 in 1953 to 120,000 in 1978, and grew to more than a million Christmas cards in future years. In 2004, the number of presidential Christmas cards reproduced, peaked at 2 million.

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 Reagan 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. 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 Christmas 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. We learned that George and Laura Bush quietly gave custom ornaments as Christmas gifts. President and Mrs. Trump created an official brass ornament and showcased them on a tree in the White House to be seen by all who visited the White House at Christmas. 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? The second step in collecting is to purchase a collectible. Why not return to the days of your youth and embark upon an adventure that will enrich your life. Whether you collect presidential Christmas cards or White House annual ornaments or signed books, join me in the Collectors Corner. You too, can enjoy and preserve a piece of our American heritage.

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