HANOVER, N.H. – Take heart, holiday procrastinators: Famed poet Robert Frost once waited until July to get his Christmas cards in the mail.
Unlike the flimsy, forgettable cards of today, however, Frost’s cards arguably were worth the wait. For the past 28 years of his life, he teamed up with a boutique printer to send beautifully illustrated booklets featuring a different poem for each year.
Dartmouth College, which Frost briefly attended as a student and later returned as a lecturer, has collected more than 500 of the cards, including the first installment, which was sent without Frost’s knowledge.
In 1929, Joseph Blumenthal of the New York-based Spiral Press, who was setting type for one of Frost’s poetry collections, decided the poem “Christmas Trees” would make an attractive greeting card.
With permission from Frost’s publisher, he printed 275 copies, one of which eventually made its way to Frost.
The poet liked it so much, he decided to collaborate with Blumenthal on cards starting in 1934. The resulting series lasted until 1962, the year before his death.
“It was one of the more fun things about him,” said Frost biographer Jay Parini, a professor at Vermont’s Middlebury College. He called the cards a “remarkable tradition” that’s carried out by other poets today.
Many of Frost’s cards feature woodcut illustrations evoking the New England landscape with which he was so deeply associated. Printed on heavy cardstock, some run to 10 or 15 pages.
The 1942 card included a hand-colored illustration of a country village and the poem “The Gift Outright,” which Frost, who won four Pulitzer Prizes for poetry, later recited from memory at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy.
From an initial print run of 775 cards in 1934, the number of cards produced grew to more than 17,000 in 1962.
Some have been snatched up by collectors for $4,000 to $5,000.