Christmas cards are things that most people send these days. However, although many people know that they started in Victorian times, they do not know the full history behind them.

History of Christmas cards

History of Christmas cards

In the middle ages there were prints produced with Christmas religious pictures, done by wood engravers. These were produced in Europe but obviously rather expensive. The first proper Christmas and New Years cards were thought to be printed in London, England in 1843.

The very first Christmas card was designed by John Callcott Horsley. He was asked by a friend, Sir Henry Cole, to design them as he thought it would be a good idea to send greetings at Christmas to friends. Horsely was a narrative painter and produced some designs for his friend who was the first director of the Victoria and Albert Museum. So in 1943 1,000 cards were printed in London by Jobbins of Warwick Court and were then each hand coloured and they were then published.

Each card was priced at one shilling and was lithographed on to card. There was some trellis design on it as well as a picture in the centre of a family party and panels each side representing feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. The family party was a jolly scene of three generations of a family all drinking wine and having a good time. The message on the card read ‘A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you’.

Christmas cards

Christmas cards

This small order of 1,000 cards led to other picture-makers producing their own cards and so the idea started to catch on. However, after a while it lessened in popularity. In 1866 Charles Goodall took up the idea. He was in the business of mass producing picture cards and so he decided to expand and also produce Christmas cards. His first designs were holly, mistletoe and robins and there were four different designs in each set of cards. The following year he used the same artist to produce a different set of cards. This lead to an increase in popularity of the Christmas card.

The growth in the popularity meant that there was not only extra work for artists and writers but also lithographers and printers. The growth led to a London company offering a five hundred guinea prize to the artist that could come up with the best Christmas card design. This was in 1880 and famous artists such as Thomas Crane and Kate Greenaway entered the contest. Writers also competed to find the best words to put into the cards and some of the cards produced at this time were simply outstanding in design and wording.

The original Christmas card was reproduced in 1881 and the reissued in 1955. Copies of the 1955 card are still around today.

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