Christmas cards could prove valuable in time so don’t be so quick to throw them out
Your old Christmas cards could be more valuable than you think. (ABC Radio Perth: Gian De Poloni)
How long do you keep your Christmas cards?
Western Australia’s state library is hoarding thousands of them, with some dating back more than 130 years.
It turns out Christmas cards are not just a kind gesture, they can hold very valuable and significant details about history.
“We collect them because they’re a snapshot or a glimpse of West Australian society at that particular time,” state librarian Margaret Allen said.
“Christmas cards are a snapshot of life — it is reflective of our historical events.
“It gives researchers information in 100 or 200 years about what West Australian society was like.”
One of the earliest West Australian Christmas cards from 1887. (Supplied: State Library of Western Australia)
Santa nowhere to be found
One of the earliest WA Christmas cards was produced by the Perth Postal and Telegraph Company in 1887.
It featured sketches of Perth and Fremantle and also of a pearling fleet.
The sending of Christmas cards didn’t become popular in Australia until the late 19th century when post became a cheap method of communication.
The early cards on file were not strikingly Christmas themed, instead reading more like a postcard.
A Christmas card displaying Perth’s esplanade on Jubilee Day, 1987. (Supplied: State Library of Western Australia)
Floral images were featured on the first commercial Christmas cards produced in Australia. (Supplied: State Library of Western Australia)
As the print and post industries evolved in the 1900s, the mass production of Christmas cards became prevalent.
Many local artists were still choosing to create their own unique handmade cards.
The fox hunt card from the 1920s was drawn by the Brierley girls from a family farming near Mount Barker. (Supplied: State Library of Western Australia)
Christmas cards also reflected hardships faced by Australians at the time.
The library is preserving handmade Christmas cards exchanged between Australian soldiers who were prisoners of war in Singapore in 1943 and 1944.
The Major AE Saggers collection includes cards exchanged between POWs in the 1940s. (Supplied: State Library of Western Australia)
The library notes how good-natured the war-time cards are despite the adversity experienced by their senders. (Supplied: State Library of Western Australia)
Just the tip of the iceberg
Christmas cards make up just a miniscule slice of the millions of historical documents the library has in its collection.
“We collect everything from the junk mail that comes into your letterbox to council meeting minutes to restaurant menus,” Ms Allen said.
“That’s the expertise of the staff who are looking for items and documents that are unique or specifically relate to some other historical event or social norm at the time.
“We couldn’t possibly collect and retain everything, we do have to be selective.”
Ms Allen said the Christmas holiday period tended to be a busy time for librarians.
“Often at Christmas time people start talking about family matters and often those records that are sitting around in the shed or in the cupboard come to mind.
“If you think that they’re worth keeping, make contact.
“We welcome donations always if people have materials that they think might be of value.
“That can be in paper form, in film form, photographs, any sort of collection.”
You can see more of the collection on the state library’s website.
The state library also collects modern Christmas cards, including this 2012 series by the William Street Collective. (Supplied: State Library of Western Australia)