Santa Claus, c.1895

c. USA

Contrary to popular belief, Fred Mizen’s classic Red Santa Claus featured in Coca-Cola’s advertising from the 1930’s continues a long tradition of portrayals of the modern day Father Christmas.

Evolving from the 4th century Greek bishop Saint Nicolas in medieval Western Europe, the figure of Father Christmas as a large man was pictured in earthy green and scarlet robes as early as Henry VIII’s England in the 16th century.

Luther’s German Reformation saw the re-casting of Saint Nicolas as Weihnachtsmann, the secular gift giver, whose popularity soared in the Victorian era and spread to the United States where the German born cartoonist Thomas Nast replaced Father Christmas’ hood with a hat, and changing the tan coat to a shorter, redder coat.

Original Photograph: Unknown Photographer
Digital Color Reconstruction: Dynamichrome
Harper’s and Puck’s Christmas Editions, 1895–1896

In fact, by the 1850’s, Father Christmas’ green coat was very much on the decline, replaced by the far more favourable depictions of Santa Claus in a red coat as seen on popular periodicals of the 1890s.

In this photograph of which very little is known, the lack of colour technology of the time meant that the actual studio depiction of Santa Claus may have had him in any number of colours, most likely a fur lined tan coat going by the black and white information on a grey background. The shot is characteristically over exposed like many of its era to emphasise the caucasian skin tones, and the ‘snow’ of white paint most likely flicked on using a brush.

Alternative Colour Schemes — Digital Color Reconstruction: Dynamichrome

Given the limitations of color photography at the time, hand tinted color versions would most likely have reflected the commercial demands of the general public if made into postcards or other forms of merchandising, such as the now classic red santa outfit and an alternative green version, though this would’ve been unlikely.

From us here at Dynamichrome, we wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Original Photograph | Unknown Photographer
Format | Black & White Film copy negative
Source | Courtesy of the Library of Congress
Color Reconstruction | Jordan Lloyd
Words | Jordan Lloyd

Original Caption
“Man portraying Santa Claus, half-length, facing front, in snowy scene.”
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