Thomas Nast, the "Inventor" of Santa Claus

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James N.

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From the Time-Life series American Country volume A Country Christmas comes this description of the "inventor" of Merry Old Santa Claus - or at least his popular image above, dating from 1881 - Thomas Nast:

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"Without Thomas Nast, our vision of Santa Claus might be very different. A political cartoonist who originated the familar symbols of the Republican elephant and Democratic donkey [above from a post-war edition of Harper's Weekly showing a rampaging elephant heading blindly over a cliff while the donkey becomes the proverbial *** in a lion's skin], Nast is thought to have been the first artist to draw Santa Claus as the 'jolly old elf' we know today."

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"Nast was born in Germany in 1840 and emigrated to New York with his family at age six. As a teenager he enrolled in art school and, at fifteen, began his career as an illustrator. After jobs with several periodicals, he joined Harper's Weekly in 1862 as a war correspondent and began to produce acclaimed cartoons and Civil War sketches [like the one above titled Christmas Eve, 1862]."

Christmas-Poems-and-Pictures.jpg


"About the same time, Nast 'met' Santa when a publisher asked him to illustrate a book of holiday poems that included Clement Moore's 'A Visit From St. Nicholas.' Combining imagery from Moore's verse, and his own childhood memories of Christmas, Nast created a rotund, bearded, pipe-smoking figure in a woolly suit and cap, carrying a large sack of toys [above]."

Original_Santa_Claus.jpg


"Nast's first Santa for Harper's [above] appeared on January 3, 1863. Santa was shown visiting a Union camp and wearing a suit of stars and stripes (the artist was a staunch Union sympathizer). His next Santa for the magazine, [below in the panel at left] published December 26, 1863, was part of a composite picture that included a soldier home on furlough."

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"Nast's Christmas illustrations for Harper's were so popular that each year for the next twenty-three years the artist would take time from cartooning to contribute holiday drawings to the magazine [like the 1865 center spread above; note at the bottom Grant the Giant Killer standing beside the severed heads of Lee, A.P. Hill (?), and Ewell]... [T]he last one Nast did for Harper's... was published December 28, 1886, and fittingly illustrates a line from Moore's poem ['Not a creature was stirring']." Below, Nast as he appeared at the height of his career in the 1870's.

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James N.

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Here are a few more Thomas Nast Santas from over the post-war years copied from the internet; above, another like the one at the top of this thread dating from 1881 titled Caught; and the one below can be dated to 1877 since Santa seems to be surprised at meeting the "spirit" of the coming year, marked 1878 on its chest:
Nast Santa 1878.jpg


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Some of Santa's best-known attributes are also pictured, like the reindeer, sleigh, and chimney above, and Santa Claus's Mail below, in addition to his notoriously bad addiction to his pipe.

Santa Claus's Mail.jpg


Below, Santa imagined as a musician playing Merry Christmas with words and music by Santa Claus:

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Of course, none of these were originally in color, since they had been published as black-and-white woodcuts in Harper's Weekly.

Nast Santa.jpg
 
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View attachment 169436

Why is it that the naught children look like they are having more fun! And who decided what the rules were for naughty children in the first place?
Thanks for posting the thread , JamesN. I enjoyed it!
Interesting too, how many more Naughty Children than Good Children there seem to have been, judging from the respective piles of their parent's letters!
 

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Drat it, James, had a thread on Nast ready! He was a fascinating guy- when Lincoln said how much good he was for recruitment, it gets misconstrued. For one thing, Lincoln said it towards the end of the war. For another, Nast made no attempt to make war glamorous- he appealed to patriotism.

Ever take apart his ' Furlough ' spread? Details are wonderful!
nst furlough.JPG

Toys scattered on the floor, you guess in laws or his parents coming in the door-
nst dinner.JPG

The teeniest sketch, blown up is delightful!

nst christmas morning sanata.jpg


nst morning.JPG

You'd love to have met him- anyone so soft on Christmas and children and so tough on crooks had to be a riot?
 

JPK Huson 1863

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Don't mean to intrude too much on your thread, James- it's just that the more you look into the guy, the cooler he got. Just fascinating! He and his wife could have been socially at the top of whatever heap existed and liked staying home together, better. They were just buddies, that's all. You can't help but like that kind of guy.

First, ever Nast Santa- from a public domain book in Hathitrust.
nst first santa 1.jpg

Same chimney he uses frequently- guess there's only so many!

nast11.jpg
 
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JPK Huson 1863

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Promise I'll stop before cluttering up your thread too much. The more you read, the more you liked him- and the more you realized he was a very brave man beyond being a big softy with the human race. And wildly misunderstood today.

Grant said he was the most influential figure of the war- honest.

nast mouse.jpg

But could make you smile with his ' Even a Mouse ' illustration.
 

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Promise I'll stop before cluttering up your thread too much... Grant said he was the most influential figure of the war- honest. But could make you smile with his ' Even a Mouse ' illustration.
Not a problem, Annie - I always like it when a thread assumes a life of it's own through the contributions of others! Of course, according to the Time-Life Country Christmas sread, this was Nast's very last Santa for Harper's.

... First, ever Nast Santa- from a public domain book in Hathitrust.
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Santa seems to have "evolved" somewhat through Nast's pen, becoming rather more respectable-looking than in many of his earlier wartime depictions. This very first book illustration isn't too bad; but some like the first Harper's showing Santa in camp looks like he took Moore's description of "...a peddler just opening his pack" a bit too literally. In fact, I think several of these would likely be the sort of Bad Santas that modern parents would quickly whisk their children away from!
 
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JPK Huson 1863

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Another great immigrant who helped create "American" culture.

Right? Had no idea he'd been so incredibly responsible for so much! We grew up with that single, iconic Coca Cola image- then began running into this stuff from James collection. And more- children opening stockings, hanging stockings, Santa's naughty list, all Christmas's bells and whistles.

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Then in keeping with his championship of the Chinese immigrants, his constant barrage included this interesting complaint on their behalf- children, immigrants and thugs who required attention. He must have been something.
nst wall.jpg
 
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JPK Huson 1863

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Santa seems to have "evolved" somewhat through Nast's pen, becoming rather more respectable-looking than in many of his earlier wartime depictions. This very first book illustration isn't too bad; but some like the first Harper's showing Santa in camp looks like he took Moore's description of "...a peddler just opening his pack" a bit too literally. In fact, I think several of these would likely be the sort of Bad Santas that modern parents would quickly whisk their children away from!

That image is amazing, isn't it? The more jolly fellow would look out of place so perhaps it's a good thing he hadn't evolved! The thing is, in the background Nast included the camp Christmas festivities- like an idjit, only just discovered that! Like yet another Christmas present, Harper's has a spread on what they were! Cool stuff.

nst camp games.jpg

Greased pig being chased, I think maybe those are greased poles to climb and other competitions- Christmas camp festivities. This cover was 1863, Several Harper's and Leslie's artists give us closer looks- this 1861 view isn't the best but it's the one I can find quickly. A PA regiment.

nst pa 1861 christms.jpg

Sack races, pig roast, whatever climbing game that is- cool stuff! Sorry, I do not think this artist is Thomas Nast.
 

Pat Young

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View attachment 169422

Here are a few more Thomas Nast Santas from over the post-war years copied from the internet; above, another like the one at the top of this thread dating from 1881 titled Caught; and the one below can be dated to 1877 since Santa seems to be surprised at meeting the "spirit" of the coming year, marked 1878 on its chest:
View attachment 169425

View attachment 169423

Some of Santa's best-known attributes are also pictured, like the reindeer, sleigh, and chimney above, and Santa Claus's Mail below, in addition to his notoriously bad addiction to his pipe.

View attachment 169427

Below, Santa imagined as a musician playing Merry Christmas with words and music by Santa Claus:

View attachment 169424

Of course, none of these were originally in color, since they had been published as black-and-white woodcuts in Harper's Weekly.

View attachment 169426
Hi James. Hreat thread. It gives me an idea for a Christmas article for my immigrant readers. I'll be using some of the great illustrations you dug up.
 
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As Nast’s own children entered and left their teen years, knowing that Santa was really their father, the artist’s illustrations finally showed direct communication and interaction between Santa Claus and the pictured children. Nast’s Santa makes his last appearance in Harper’s Weekly in 1880 when the jolly old man offered himself as a present. How sweet is that?

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As Nast’s own children entered and left their teen years, knowing that Santa was really their father, the artist’s illustrations finally showed direct communication and interaction between Santa Claus and the pictured children. Nast’s Santa makes his last appearance in Harper’s Weekly in 1880 when the jolly old man offered himself as a present. How sweet is that?
Elanor Rose, that date's not right, according to the Time-Life source I used: The Santa headers in both of the first two posts at the top of this thread are dated 1881, and according to the text in Country Christmas, Nast's final Harper's Santa was the drawing Not a Creature Was Stirring on Dec. 28, 1886.
 
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Elanor Rose, that date's not right, according to the Time-Life source I used: The Santa headers in both of the first two posts at the top of this thread are dated 1881, and according to the text in Country Christmas, Nast's final Harper's Santa was the drawing Not a Creature Was Stirring on Dec. 28, 1886.
Thanks for catching this James N.! I must admit the source I quoted was a little confusing with the dates. I reread it a few times, but obviously I got it wrong. Dadgummit it!

"In a post dated January 1879 issue, a girl drops a letter to Santa in a mailbox (the first time the artist depicted a letter from a child to Santa), and in December 1884, Santa and a girl are able to speak with each other by using a relatively new invention, the telephone. In the January 1879 issue, another Nast cartoon portrays Santa Claus in the midst of a group of gleeful children who he embraces affectionately. Santa is now recognized as part of the family, whose shared love is the greatest gift. Nast’s Santa makes his last appearance in Harper’s Weeklythe next year when the jolly old (man-size) elf offers himself as a present. Nast’s last two Christmas illustrations in Harper’s Weeklyappeared in December 1886, when he resigned from the newspaper, but his impact on the popular image of Santa Claus continued and remains potent to this day."

http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/harp/1225.html
 

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Thanks for catching this James N.! I must admit the source I quoted was a little confusing with the dates. I reread it a few times, but obviously I got it wrong. Dadgummit it!

"In a post dated January 1879 issue, a girl drops a letter to Santa in a mailbox (the first time the artist depicted a letter from a child to Santa), and in December 1884, Santa and a girl are able to speak with each other by using a relatively new invention, the telephone. In the January 1879 issue, another Nast cartoon portrays Santa Claus in the midst of a group of gleeful children who he embraces affectionately. Santa is now recognized as part of the family, whose shared love is the greatest gift. Nast’s Santa makes his last appearance in Harper’s Weeklythe next year when the jolly old (man-size) elf offers himself as a present. Nast’s last two Christmas illustrations in Harper’s Weeklyappeared in December 1886, when he resigned from the newspaper, but his impact on the popular image of Santa Claus continued and remains potent to this day."

http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/harp/1225.html
Yes, that's pretty garbled, but he definitely places the telephone call in 1884. I think why they may be referring to the Santa present as "his last appearance" might be because I think the Santa in Not a Creature... is actually just a PICTURE of Santa and not Santa himself.
 
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