Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Devotionals— Holy Cards

Did you receive a Holy Card for First Communion, Confirmation, a significant event such as an Ordination or anniversary, as a reward from nuns and priests, or perhaps as a memorial of a deceased family or friend? Flip through a missal, bible or prayer book, and more than likely a holy card can be found tucked between its pages, often used as a bookmark. On the back of the cards can be found prayers, novenas, and remembrances of those who have preceded us in death. Childhood friends often used them as trading cards. They are, indeed, cherished items.

An early example of a holy card, or holy picture, is a wood block print of St. Christopher from the year 1423. In France and Germany during the 1400’s, the art of making hand-made paper holy cards featuring saints with decorative borders became popular and were often used as gifts or commemorative cards. They were likely the precursor of the greeting cards with which we are familiar, a 19th century custom that continues today.

The late 1700’s saw the invention of the print process of lithography and the 1800’s yielded the production of color prints, known as chromolithography. This period experienced a growth in the mass-production of holy cards, which were also becoming popular in the United States. Quick to seize an opportunity, many European printing companies opened locations here in the States.

The Swiss company, Carl Benziger and Sons, founded in 1792, set up shop in Cincinnati, OH in the year 1838. Their name was later changed to Benziger Brothers, becoming the most important printing company in the U.S.

Not limited to Catholics, it was during the mid-nineteenth century that Protestants began to use cards depicting biblical scenes and texts instead of pictures of saints, and were often used for bible studies. The Victorian era saw the production of small embossed lace-edged holy cards, while many private businesses utilized similarly-sized cards for advertising purposes.

After a waning of interest in the 1950’s and 1960’s, the popularity of holy cards is now on the rise. Some antique holy cards (over 100 years old) and many vintage ones hold great appeal to collectors from an aesthetic and historic viewpoint. While many of the newer ones being produced today are laminated, paper versions evoke great sentiment, recalling an earlier time, with their colorful pictures and golden edges.

Care should be taken in preserving holy cards; use acid-free materials for long-term storage.

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