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Christmas Card’s History – Part 1

October 29, 2011

Is it too early to talk about Christmas at the end of October? I’d say it is, but then I remember the mad rush in the middle of December, when I suddenly realize I haven’t bought all the presents… I guess it’s better to be prepared in advance, so maybe it’s not that bad that The Royal Academy of Arts has started sending out their newsletter offering Christmas cards.

Have you bought any yet? How many will you send? And more to the point, do you know where and when the first card was sent with warm Christmas wishes?

It turns out the custom of sending Christmas cards started in the UK in 1843. Sir Henry Cole a civil servant or in other words Government worker was very interested in the new „Public Post Office“ and wondered how it could be used more by ordinary people (seems that even in the middle of the 19th century people were thinking of marketing campaigns!). In the end Sir Henry had the idea of Christmas Cards.

Sir Henry Cole

Together with his friend John Horsley, who was an artist, they designed the first card. These cards were sold for 1 shilling each (That is only 5p today!, but we are talking about 1843. By the way, I managed to find on the internet that approximatelly one Shilling GBP in 1843 had the purchasing power of about £3.74 GBP today).

What did the card look like? It had three panels. The outer two showed people caring for the poor and the centre panel was a family having a large Christmas dinner. Not everyone liked the first Christmas card because it showed a child being given a glass of wine!

Christmas cards became even more popular with the improvement of printing methods.  They  were produced in large numbers from about 1860 and in 1870 the cost of sending a post card, and also Christmas cards, dropped to half a penny. This of course meant that even more people were able to send cards. By the early 1900s, the custom had spread over Europe and had become especially popular in Germany.

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If you still haven’t got any Christmas cards, have a look at Anna Wilson-Patterson’s Santa’s little helpers. 

Santa's Little Helpers by Anna Wilson-Patterson

You can purchase them on Anna’s website, yet on Decor-Art website you can still see her exhibition – The South Coast of England (closing on the 4th of November).

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 31, 2011 8:39 pm

    That was a very interesting post indeed! I love Christmas cards but am somewhat confused as I have been living in France for fourteen years now and we don’t send cards at Christmas but in January instead.

    I remember my parents’ house overflowing with Christmas cards which would float to the ground every time a draught made its’ way in! There was also a little tension involved when my mother would receive a card from someone she had forgotten to send one to…

    Funny times.

    I hope you are well and happy.

  2. November 1, 2011 4:04 pm

    Stephanie, I’m really glad to hear that you liked this post – I find it interesting that we stick to so many traditions and usually don’t know where they are coming from.

    I think everyone likes receiving Christmas cards, yet, as you correctly mentioned, it can be extremly stressy to make lists of everyone who needs to get one and it’s really bad if you forget someone… Oh, well I think I’d better start on my list soon!

    How come do the French send cards in January? I’ve never heard that before!

    Best Regards, Kristina

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