Too Much of a Good Thing Can Be Bad for Collecting: Christmas Cards

There are multiple reasons why collector interest in Christmas cards as a general category is minimal, but mainly because there are too many cards out there. This lot of cards from the 40’s sold for $15.50 in October 2017.

Too much of a good thing can be bad for collecting.  Can you name six potential collecting categories where so many objects exist that their sheer number prohibits them from being collected as a general category?  My list appears at the end of this article.  Although the focus is on Christmas cards, many of the same points apply to birthday, Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and New Year cards.

Of course, there are die-hard “someday these will become collectible and I will make millions” enthusiasts who build collections numbering in the hundreds if not thousands.  Quantity is more important than quality.  Their competitive addition makes them members of the “he who dies with the biggest pile wins” club.  When they die, their accumulated treasurers wind up in the landfill.  Their heirs want nothing to do with the stuff.

To some, the above may seem a strange way to introduce the question: “Why are all Christmas cards not collectible?” It is not.  Somewhere out in the collecting world, there have to be one or more individuals with a collection of 5,000 or more antique and collectibles Christmas cards.  If you are one of them, do not contact me.

Whether from last year, a decade ago, or half a century ago, there is no shortage of “old” Christmas cards. Christmas cards are one of the many antiques and collectibles black holes that suck up things and send them to unknown dimensional or parallel universes, universes that are not discovered until the receiver of the cards dies.  They were saved based on one of the greatest false assumptions in personal collecting:  someday I am going to go back, organize them, and reread them.  It never happens.

This unused Christmas card from the 1950’s sold for $34 in October 2017.

Unlike Valentine cards, which date back to fifteenth century France, Christmas cards did not arrive upon the scene until 1843 in England.  Sir Henry Cole and his friend John C. Horsley created the first Christmas cards.  Sir Henry was an Assistant Keeper in the Public Record Office, which eventually became the post office.  Did Sir Henry have an ulterior motive for creating the card?  Ho, ho, ho as Santa says.

The use of postal cards gained in popularity when a card could be posted in an unsealed envelope and mailed for one-half penny, half the price of a regular letter.  Advances in the printing industry allowed the mass production of cards by the 1860s.  The cost to send a card was reduced in the 1870s.

Although Christmas cards appeared in American by the late 1840s, they were expensive.  It was not until 1875 that Louis Prang began the mass production of American Christmas cards.  John C. Hall and his two brothers created Hallmark Cards in 1915.  They increased the size of the Christmas card based on the premise that people wanted to write more of a message could fit on a postcard but did not want to write a full letter.

Annie Oakley is credited with sending the first personalized Christmas card in 1891.  She was appearing with Wild Bill’s Wild West show in Glasgow at the time.  The image on the card shows her dressed in tartans.

This 1910 Christmas postcard sold for $12.69 in October 2017.

According to the infographic on www.moo.com, 1.5 billion Christmas cards were sent in the United States compared to 678.9 million in the United Kingdom in 2010, only 15 percent of the cards were bought by men, and 45 percent of all cards sent were Christmas cards.  How many collecting categories can you name where the annual quantity is measured in billions?  The Christmas card survival rate is too staggering to contemplate.

There are multiple reasons why collector interest in Christmas cards as a general category is minimal.   First, there are too many Christmas cards.   The number is overwhelming.  It is possible to create ten collections, each with a thousand or more cards, and not have a duplicate between any of the collections.

Second, there are no “general” reference books or price guides to Christmas cards.  Reference books are essential to helping collectors organize their collecting approach and to learn what is important within a collecting category.  There is a specialized guide, more about that later.

Third, there are so many cards that collector envy is impossible.  If a collector sees a card in a rival’s collection, he is unlikely to find a duplicate in a lifetime of collecting.  Coveting is no fun unless it can be eliminated.

Fourth, the variety of surface images is infinite, making it impossible to assign value based solely on the image.  In reality, the vast majority of cards should be worth 10 cents or less.  The difficulty is that those selling them, especially on eBay,  are asking a dollar or more.  If I did not know better, I would suspect P. T. Barnum of creating the secondary market for Christmas cards based on his premise of “there is a sucker born every minute.”

Despite the above arguments, there are individuals who collect Christmas cards.  They specialize by identifying and collecting in a narrow segment of the market.  Children’s greeting cards are one example.  Linda McPherson’s “Collecting Vintage Children’s Greeting Cards: Identification & Values” (Collector Books, 2005) is a good reference.   Even this is a broad category.  How about a collection of “Baby’s First Christmas” cards?

This 1985 White House Christmas Card from Ronald Reagan and 1st Lady Nancy Reagan sold for $54.95 in Ocotober 2017.

White House Christmas cards have a small collector following.  The goal is to find cards personally signed by the President and/or First Lady rather than those with printed or script signatures.  These sell primarily in the political items collecting marketplace.

Some other approaches might be collecting decorated envelopes for Christmas cards, hand drawn Christmas cards, Christmas letters, a surprising reflection of the life of the times, or novelty Christmas cards.  My jigsaw puzzle collection contained a number of hand-cut jigsaw puzzle Christmas cards.

Christmas card images and verses reflect changing times.  I toyed on several occasions about assembling a type collection of 10 to 15 cards whose surface images “spoke decades” for the decades between 1920 and 2020.  I never started the project – maybe someday, most likely never.

I stopped sending out Christmas cards more than decade ago.  Linda continues the tradition on a tit for tat basis.  When we get a Christmas card from someone, she sends out a card in response.   I would tell everyone to take our name off their lists, but Linda would be disappointed.

HARRY’S LIST: My list includes trucker and sports caps, birthday, Easter, get well, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Halloween, and New Year greeting cards, coffee mugs, Pogs, telephone credit cards, and t-shirts.  What’s on your list?


Rinker Enterprises and Harry L. Rinker are on the Internet. Check out Harry’s Web site.  You can listen and participate in Harry’s antiques-and-collectibles radio call-in show “Whatcha Got?” on Sunday mornings between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Eastern Time. It streams live on the Genesis Communications Network.  “Sell, Keep Or Toss? How To Downsize A Home, Settle An Estate, And Appraise Personal Property” (House of Collectibles, an imprint of the Random House Information Group), Harry’s latest book, is available at your favorite bookstore and via Harry’s Web site.

Harry L. Rinker welcomes questions from readers about collectibles, those mass-produced items from the 20th century. Selected queries will be answered on this site. Harry cannot provide personal answers. Send your questions to: Rinker on Collectibles, 5955 Mill Pond Court SE, Kentwood, MI 49512. You can e-mail your questions to harrylrinker@aol.com. Only e-mails containing a full name and mailing address will be considered. Please indicate that these are questions for WorthPoint.

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