SPIRITS OF CHRISTMAS PAST, FROM THE WOLFSONIAN LIBRARY COLLECTION
As we approach the Christmas holiday season, I thought I’d share with you some images drawn from our library.
The first couple of images are drawn from the Kate Greenaway Collection of advertising cards from the turn of the nineteenth-century. Although the St. Nicholas in this 1879 advertisement is bearded, he also appears to be far slimmer than the “super-sized” Santa we traditionally associate with Christmas today.
Another couple of early American advertising card designed for the producers of Santa Claus laundry soap, used a recognizable “Kris Kringle” as their company brand that any child today would have no trouble identifying as old St. Nick.
From the Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf collection comes a Muslin cloth alphabet book for children published in 1904. Even at this early date, the depiction of Santa Claus is certainly recognizable to contemporary audiences used to see “Old St. Nick” sporting a snow-white beard and dressed in red cap and jacket.
GIFT OF JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A. SHARF
During the First World War, Santa Claus was evidently “drafted” along with Captain Tick Mouse as one of Uncle Sam’s Secret Service workers, instructing good little children in the ways of doing their patriotic part on the home front.
PURCHASED WITH FUNDS DONATED BY MITCHELL WOLFSON, JR.
After the Great War came to an end in 1918 and peace on earth was (all too briefly) restored, Santa returned to his more traditional role of toy-maker. The library holds a copy of a Christmas book published simultaneously in Great Britain and Austria in 1922 with pictures made by the children attending Professor Franz Cizek’s class in the Kunstgewerbeschule in Vienna. While most of the illustrations depict more religiously inspired scenes, at least two child illustrators left us with their own versions of St. Nicholas at work in his toy shop.
The Stock Market Crash of October 1929 and onset of the world-wide and decade-long Great Depression must have been a trying one for Santa Claus. It was during this time that the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA) recruited Santa to show how hard everyone was hit by unemployment and the collapse of the Capitalist economic system. The committed radical cartoonist, William “Bill” Gropper (1897-1977) supplied this rather depressed looking “Santa” looking through want-ads for their children’s propaganda magazine, New Pioneer.
Despite the depression, Santa continued to try to help sell products to consumer-minded folk. Haddon Hubbard Sundblom (1899-1976) so popularized the grandfatherly Santa Claus in his advertisements for the Coca-Cola Company in the 1930s, that he has often been (mistakenly) credited with creating our modern image of St. Nick. In fact, the popularity of his Christmas advertising art for Coca-Cola gave rise to the urban legend that the red and white-clad Santa had been invented by that company since his colors were also used to market their product. In 1985, The Coca-Cola Kid was released taking that paranoid theme one further, as the Coca-Cola Company (the ultimate symbol of American cultural imperialism) employs a gang of truck-driving Santas to peddle their product in the only region of the Australian outback not imbibing the brown bubbly soft drink.
The Santa (sans mustache) depicted in a 1937 Christmas season English advertisement is certainly a “merry old soul” who appears to enjoy imbibing and indulging his cravings for the champagne, delicacies, and desserts sold by Fortnun & Mason.
That same year, however, war troubles forced Santa to cross into civil war ravaged Spain to bring joy, toys, and sweets to the innocent victims of Fascist aggression.
While Santa is universally known for rewarding “nice” children and for leaving nothing but coal in the stockings of “naughty” children, he was not above dishing out sterner punishment to evil Nazi, Fascist, and militarist leaders during the Second World War.
In this advertisement designed for Interwoven socks, Santa appears to have changed the lyrics from the “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” to “I saw Santa Kicking Axis A**!”
THE VICTORY GOLD LEVI COLLECTION