Christmas card given out to American troops in Paris 1944 (The Skylighters)
The American Greeting Card Industry Mobilizes for World War II
The use of Christmas cards in the Second World War was almost curtailed by the U.S. War Department, which called for a reduction of paper use by 25 percent following the December 7, 1941, attack at Pearl Harbor. Responding to this directive was a small group of greeting card publishers headed by George Burkhardt of Burkhardt-Warner.
In 1941, Burkhardt formed an organization called the Greeting Card Industry. At the time, the United States counted about 100 greeting card publishers, with total wholesale card sales numbering about $43 million annually.
Burkhardt’s new organization successfully lobbied against the possible elimination of paper for card use via several programs. One was “Defense Stamp Christmas Cards,” a project that encouraged the purchase of defense stamps and war bonds. Another was “Greeting Cards in Wartime,” which emphasized how cards could boost morale and help families keep in touch with their loved ones in service.
American World War II Home Front Christmas Cards
The most common WW II Christmas cards one will encounter are the mass-produced examples from the American home front. Resembling many of the popular postcards of the era, these colorful cards employ a military/patriotic theme, with innocence, sentimentality or humor often the dominating subject matter.
A good example of one of these cards is titled “Christmas Greetings to An Army Man,” which pictures an illustration of a young Army bugler. The message inside reads: “A greeting for Christmas and every good wish…It’s swell for the Army to have men like you…But golly! You’re missed around here.”
Of course the “American mother” theme was also very popular. Many feature a blue star banner, indicating that mom has a boy in the service. A gold star, of course, meant that a son had died in the service of his country.
Other popular card titles include “Across the Miles,” “From Back Home,” “The Land of the Free” and the numerous “Sweetheart,” “Husband” and “Son” examples. Hallmark, Rust Craft, Gibson, Sommerfield, Grinnell, Buzza Cardozo, Quality and Whitman are just some of the American companies who produced these cards.
Values for mass-produced cards generally run in the $3-15 range, with the presence of the original mailing envelope increasing a card’s worth.
Military WW II Christmas Greetings Cards
Some of the most interesting WW II Christmas cards came from the military via training centers, armies, divisions, air forces, squadrons, bomb groups, navies, ships and individual servicemen and women. Many are simply GI-issue type cards while others are quite elaborate.
General George S. Patton Jr. issued a Christmas card in 1944 to all of his officers and men. It reads in part: “…I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty, and skill in battle. We march in our might to complete victory. May God’s blessing rest upon each of you on this Christmas Day – G.S. Patton, Jr., Lieutenant General, Commanding, Third United States Army.” Bearing Patton’s facsimile signature, this card sells for $20-35.
A 1944 card sent by members of Britain’s RAF 2nd Tactical Air Force opens up to reveal a map inside, charting the Allies’ progress from the beaches of Normandy to the liberation of Paris and beyond. It carries an approximate value of $25-30.
Some soldiers designed their own personal cards. Such was the case with American soldier Edward M. “Eddie” Golson Jr., a member of the 81st Air Depot Group, whose hand-drawn card from 1944 in New Guinea was donated in 2004 to the George C. Marshall Foundation’s World War II and Korean War Memories Project.
Christmas card from General George S. Patton Jr. 1944 (The Library of Congress)
Hollywood and Movie Star Christmas Cards
The entertainment industry geared up for World War II just like any other business sector. It is here where some of the flashiest cards of the era can be found.
South African-born actor Basil Rathbone (1892-1967) sent some of the finest cards of the war years. From 1940 comes a British War Relief card titled “Through to Victory,” whose front features a growling English Bulldog, the Union Jack and Rathbone’s authentic signature in red ink. When found in its original mailing envelope, usually postmarked out of Los Angeles where Rathbone was living at the time, this card can sell for over $300.
American actor James Bush (1907-1987) was another Hollywood personality whose Christmas cards reflect the war years. Sixteen days after the sneak attack at Pearl Harbor, Bush’s patriotic Christmas card was already in the mail, picturing himself holding a puppy and surrounded by the red, white and blue of the stars and stripes. When found in its original mailing envelope, this card is valued at $15-20.
Musicians of the era also got into the holiday war spirit. Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians issued a stunning Christmas card in 1941 featuring the boys posed in a “V for Victory” salute. One example sold for $20.
Christmas card from Hollywood actor James Bush 1941 (William J. Felchner)
War of Words: WW II Propaganda Christmas Cards
Perhaps the most interesting Christmas cards of the war came from the Japanese in the form of propaganda leaflets. The Japanese used at least seven different cards in December 1942 during the Guadalcanal campaign. Four of the cards employed a buxom, leggy “Vargas girl” pin-up design. The cards open up to reveal a machine-produced, handwritten letter from a fictitious woman back home. “Dearest Husband,” one begins, “Its (sic) Christmas time again, and here I am, sending you my love and greetings…My head aches when I wonder why we had to start this war…love and kisses – Joan.”
Other nations engaged in the “war of words” also. The British produced cards for use in Nazi-occupied Denmark. One of their cards from 1944, titled “Merry Xmas From the Allies,” features a Christmas tree bearing an ornament depicting a little Adolf Hitler hanging by the neck.
The Germans made extensive use of the Christmas theme in their propaganda war. One of their holiday leaflets from 1944 was dropped on members of the besieged American 101st Airborne Division at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. Crudely written and full of grammatical errors, it informed soldiers that surrender was “only 300 yards ahead.”
Values for these propaganda leaflets and cards vary. Some of the Japanese cards are fairly expensive, selling in the $50-100 range.
The sheer scope of the Second World War translates into a vast reservoir of war-related Christmas cards which can keep collectors and historians busy for years. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays – from “long ago and far away”…