American Christmas Cards, 1900-1960


  • $7
  • $5
  • $5

Admission is free Thursday evenings after 5 pm

The Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture (BGC) presents American Christmas Cards, 1900–1960 in its Focus Gallery. The exhibition has been organized by Dr. Kenneth L. Ames, member of the BGC faculty, working in collaboration with graduate students. This is the first exhibition to study the images on American Christmas cards of the 20th century, and it serves as an introduction to a large artifactual and aesthetic field that until now has been largely unexplored.

The exhibition and accompanying book argue the central premise that examining the images on Christmas cards used in the United States from the late 19th century to the end of the 1950s enriches our understanding of not only the American Christmas but also significant aspects of American culture. These cards constitute a category of American material culture that is rich in documentary potential yet has been nearly invisible in the scholarly literature.

Christmas cards express more than simple sentiment, for since their earliest days the cards have included prominent images precisely because they suggest richer and deeper meanings than can be efficiently conveyed by words. In recent years the genre has been in decline, as fewer people send cards, but the chief function—making contact with others—remains as critical as ever, although superseded by new methods of connection.

It is now evident that the Christmas card was a culturally specific artifact, a very distinctive, even idiosyncratic way to express a fundamental and enduring human gesture within the commercial, materialistic, and rapidly changing society that was the United States in the first half of the twentieth century.

The exhibition presents twenty of the most prominent classes of Christmas card imagery and introduces the viewer to a few other categories of cards determined by form or purpose. These classes include everything from candles and poinsettias to coaching and travel, the three kings, and visiting for the holidays.

Group exhibition tours for adult and school groups are offered Tuesday through Friday between 11 am and 4 pm, and on Thursdays until 7 pm. Reservations are required for all groups. To schedule a tour, please call (212) 501-3013 or e-mail

American Christmas Cards, 1900 -1960, will be followed in Spring 2012 , by Staging Fashion, 1880  – 1920: Jane Hading, Lily Elsie, Billie Burke, curated by BGC assistant professor, Michele Majer.

Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture

18 West 86th Street

(between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue)

New York, NY 10024

(212) 501-3000

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Subway: B, C to 86th Street


Tue11:00 am - 5:00 pm
Wed11:00 am - 5:00 pm
Thu11:00 am - 8:00 pm
Fri11:00 am - 5:00 pm
Sat11:00 am - 5:00 pm
Sun11:00 am - 5:00 pm

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