A Look at Some of Santa Claus’ Earliest Trading Cards
Santa Claus is featured on numerous cards from the 19th century
If you were a card collector in the 1990s, you’re no doubt familiar with the series of football cards produced by Pro Set that depicted Santa Claus. Those, however, aren’t the first cards to feature him — not even close.
Sure, Santa Claus is featured on tons of greeting cards. But he even is found on some trading cards that date back to the 1800s.
The most common Santa Claus cards are found around the 1880s. Not that any particular card is all that common. But he is featured on so many Victorian trade cards that it is difficult to consider them collectively rare. eBay always has some of these cards available with prices starting as little as $15-$20 ranging up to more than $100.
What is Santa’s earliest card? That’s very tough to say, simply because most Victorian trade card aren’t easy to date. The majority of these cards were printed from the late 1870s through the early 1890s so a default dating period is often stated as 1880s. Some do print a definitive date on them and others are known if they advertised a calendar, schedule, or event. But the majority of dates for these cards are simply not known.
Shown here are a couple of such cards.
The first card is an undated issue from the Woolson Spice Company, an Ohio-based outfit which printed numerous cards for Christmas and holidays throughout the year. This particular card is not dated.
The other card is also from Woolson Spice, but this one at least provides a date. Small print in the lower left corner includes an 1891 copyright and states that card was created by Donaldson Brothers, a famous lithographer that created numerous Victorian trade cards of all sorts of subjects. Coincidentally, the Donaldson Brothers name was said to have faded out around 1891 when they merged with the American Lithographic Company. Assuming that to be true, this could have been one of the final cards they issued as an independent company.
Of note is that, this second card features Santa dressed in a green outfit as opposed to the red one he is now famous for. Early depictions portrayed Santa in green or, even less common colors, including tan, blue, and yellow.
Also of note is that, many of Santa’s Victorian trade cards are oversized in nature. Many, like the two shown here, are roughly 5″ x 7″ in size, making them larger than most trading cards.
These are just two of dozens and dozens of Santa trade cards from the 19th century. But if you’re looking for the first mainstream card of Santa, that one is found in the 1890 Duke Holidays set.
Classified as N80 in the American Card Catalog, this is the earliest catalogued card of Santa Claus that I know of and is a regular cigarette card size. PSA’s population report does not show an earlier card they’ve graded featuring Santa and this seems like the first of his traditional card. The card is somewhat rare and, to date, PSA has only graded a grand total of 11 to date.
This card pictures Santa on the front in a brown suit with a red hat presenting a child with a doll while her mother stands in the background along with a Christmas tree. The card is part of a set of 50 that featured holidays around the world and were distributed inside packages of Duke Cigarettes.
In a way, it’s a sort of Santa Claus rookie card. Collectors looking for it should note that it is one of three Christmas cards in the set. Other cards depict Christmas in England but neither of those picture Santa Claus.