History of the Christmas Card

Have you sent out your Christmas cards yet? If not, you’re really cutting it close!

I thought my readers (if I have any out there) might be interested in the history of the Christmas card.

Did you know that the first commercially printed Christmas card was produced and mailed in 1843 in England?

Before that, people hand wrote Christmas greetings or made their own Christmas cards, delivering them in person or by mail.

But in 1843, Sir Henry Cole, a wealthy British businessman and founder of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England, realized he had so many Christmas greetings to send that he would never be able to hand write them all.

So he commissioned artist John Calcott Horsley to paint a card which he could have printed (lithographed, actually) and sent to his many friends and acquaintances.Firstchristmascard

The resulting card featured, among other things, a painting of a happy family sipping wine and enjoying the Christmas festivities together, and the greeting, “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You.”

Legend has it that the card drew criticism from the British Temperance Movement because a painting of a child drinking wine was considered “fostering the moral corruption of children.”

Whether or not that was the case, it is said that Sir Henry did not send any Christmas cards in 1844. Hmmm.

Sir Henry had 1,000 of the original cards printed, and 12 are still in existence in private collections.

In spite of Sir Henry’s apparent reluctance to repeat his first attempt at sending printed Christmas cards, the custom soon caught on and became all the rage in England and Germany.

It wasn’t long until people in the United States began sending commercially printed Christmas cards, but until 1875 they had to purchase cards imported from Europe.

In 1875, Boston lithographer Louis Prang began printing high-quality Christmas cards that featured bouquets of flowers, such as roses, apple blossoms, geraniums, and daisies. Hardly Christmas themes.

Americans preferred to purchase and send penny Christmas postcards imported from Germany rather than spend more money on Prang’s expensive, beautiful, but not very Christmas-y cards.

By the end of World War I, however,  commercially printed Christmas cards featuring images such as the nativity scene, decorated Christmas trees, the star of Bethlehem, and activities of the Christmas season, came into popularity.

And the Christmas card craze has only grown from there. In the United States today, more than two billion Christmas cards are sent each year, the highest number of any holiday in the country.

So if you haven’t sent your cards yet this year, when you do send them out, think about how it all began – with a busy British businessman trying to save some time.

“A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You.”

Guest Blogger, Danna C. Estridge

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