The Nimble Nicks Santa’s Colorful Cute and Happy Helpers!
I have always loved the Nimble Nicks characters. As I started to research them I realized having been raised in Massachusetts of course I would have an interest in characters that were born-created in Worcester Massachusetts. There is not a lot of information about the history of the Nimble Nicks but the article written by Roy Nunn and published in The Antique Shoppe Newspaper in December of 2004 provides great insight into these cute Santa’s helpers.
Interior view of George C. Whitney Company with workers, c. 1888. Photograph from the collections of Worcester Historical Museum.
Here is Roy Nuhn’s article:
The publishing company founded by Civil War veteran George Whitney in his hometown of Worcester, Massachusetts, has long been dear to the hearts of collectors everywhere because of its beautiful 19th-century valentines. But Whitney has also gained much admiration and respect for having made the Yuletide, in the years before World War I, a happier, more colorful holiday. Beginning at the turn of the century and continuing up to about 1920, the Whitney Company manufactured huge numbers greeting cards, children's books, souvenir postcards, paper toys and novelties of every description for Christmas. They were also involved with other holidays, including Halloween, Easter, valentine's Day, etc. But Christmas was the big selling season, just as it was - and still is - for most publishers.
In the process of creating and marketing this huge output of merchandise for the nation's five-and-dimes, department stores, variety shops, and other retail outlets, Whitney introduced a line of Nimble Nicks products.
One of the earliest, if not the first, ensemble of characters especially created by a publisher for its paper novelties, the Nimble Nicks were Santa's helpers. Others - Rose O'Neill's Kewpies, Palmer Cox's Brownies and R. F.Outcault's Buster Brown among them - began as magazine illustrations, dolls, or comic strip heroes and heroines. The Nimble Nicks - cute little guys who loved a good time almost as much as they loved helping Santa make toys and get ready for his once-a-year Christmas Eve trip - were American originals. They came along a half-century after George Whitney had started his valentine business.
During the heyday of the picture postcard fad in the United States, from about 1904 to 1917, the Whitney Company was a major presence. They printed and sold several hundred designs for all holidays. So vast was its production that collectors even today still do not know for sure the entire story.
Brightly colored, embossed Christmas postcards featuring cheery, pleasant children were issued in sets of six. The same artwork was also used for other holiday novelties, including greeting cards, prints, and softbound juvenile books. Whitney's Santa Claus illustrations, for instance, provided pictorials for Christmas greeting cards, paper toys and picture books. These showed Santa, often with children, unpacking his toys, leading wish lists, trudging through the snow, and placing gaily-wrapped packages under Christmas trees.
And then there were the Nimble Nicks.
On postcards and other paper goods and in storybooks, they were probably introduced about 1915 and stayed around until the early 1920s. Many Nimble Nicks souvenir postcards - at least two dozen of them - were printed, each in runs of tens to hundreds of thousands of copies. Countless other merchandise, including easel stand-ups, were also produced, as well as illustrated books.
Nimble Nicks may well have been the world's first companions for Santa Claus. Others, like Rudolph and Frosty, came along much later.
Each delightful Nimble Nick was a playful little imp whose greatest thrill in life was wearing a tiny Santa Claus suit. Their charm has endured well over the years, and many collectors today are in love with them.
They lived in a fantasy place called Christmas Land, where snow remained year-round. At first, they are usually mistaken for fairies, elves or pixies. However, a closer examination reveals the chubby fellows - and gals (there's one of them) - to be no more than children who never grow up.
They are taller and larger than the various mythical forest creatures they are often confused with, and they are perfectly proportioned. Each Nick has blonde hair and one curl at the top of his forehead which peaks out from under the red hood. The hair, diminutive size, and Santa Claus outfits are their trademarks, forever tagging them as Nimble Nicks.
The Nicks dwelled in cute tiny houses that did not even reach a regular person's knee and they drove around Christmas Land in kiddie-cars (so the illustrated storybooks tell us). Also, at party time, out came the "funny little chairs" upon which the little fellows sat while eating their favorite treat, turkey stew.
When not helping Santa Claus, the Nicks enjoyed life to the hilt. One of their greatest pleasures was to bunch up as many of themselves as possible, as close as they could, onto giant sleds and go cascading down giant snow-covered hills. Another activity enjoyed by all was incessant snowball fighting.
Whitney published its many different designs of the Nimble Nicks in vivid red coloring. These, like the firm's other Christmas merchandise, were sold in the nations stores, particularly Woolworth's, well into the late 1920s and early 1930s, though the actual printing of them had stopped years before around 1925.
Several books aimed at young people between the ages of three and ten were printed by Whitney detailing the adventures of the Nimble Nicks. These were usually die-cut, 6 x 9 inches in size, and average about 12 illustrated pages. Today such books are very rare.
Whitney also marketed a paper novelty product line known as easel stand-ups. The top half of the design was a die-cut and popped out of its perforations when folded backward and clipped with a tab. The card could then stand up, and part of the illustration was free-standing. About a half-dozen Nimble Nicks designs were printed in this format.
Employees of the George C. Whitney Whitney George C Company Employees, c .1898
The greeting card company that once flourished under the guiding hand of George C. Whitney has been gone now for well over a half-century, but collectors continue to be intrigued and passionate about the valentines, postcards and books the firm published in its 80-year lifetime. To these collectors nothing is more treasured today than the ephemera associated with the Nimble Nicks - Santa's helpers up North in a place called Christmas Land.
We hope you enjoy the Nimble Nicks and all their antics as much as we do.