It’s Christmas Card Time!

People have been giving and receiving Christmas greetings in some form or another for hundreds of years but when did giving Christmas cards become so popular?. Well it seems it all began in 1843 with art patron Sir Henry Cole (1808-1882), founder of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (and also designer of “Summerly’s” tea service made by Minton). This caricature of Sir Henry by James Tissot appeared in Vanity Fair in 1871.

Sir Henry Cole

Sir Henry used to hand write greetings to his family and friends on sheets of paper decorated with Christmas themes but decided he had too many to do so he commissioned 1,000 hand-coloured cards to be printed by London artist John Calcott Horsley. Sir Henry wanted something that would be suitable for everyone so Horsley designed a triptych with scenes on each of the side panels depicting the charitable essence of Christmas: feeding the poor and clothing the homeless. In the centre was the message “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year To You” (the message that is still today the standard Christmas card sentiment) under a beautiful drawing of a family toasting the season. And remember – Horsley hand coloured each one!

 

Henry Cole Christmas Card

Sir Henry sent half the cards personally and 500 were sold for the then huge price of one shilling each (probably a week’s wage for the average person). Only about nine have survived and today they can sell for thousands of pounds at auction. Due to the cost involved exchanging cards started out as something only the wealthy could afford to do.

Later, during the Victorian period cards were illustrated with gorgeous intricate designs and vivid colours, often hand-painted and from around the 1860’s a process known as chromolithography produced cards with colours so intense they rival anything produced today. By the 1880’s Christmas cards had verses inside and started to show more seasonal images.

The practice of sending cards caught on in England aided by the Postal Act of 1840, which allowed a piece of mail to be sent anywhere in the United Kingdom for just one penny. Strangely enough Sir Henry himself was involved in establishing this better postal system and creating the first self-adhesive postage stamp, the Penny Black (he provided the sketch of Queen Victoria used on the stamp).

The start of a cheaper postal service in 1870 made it affordable for almost everyone to send cards and it became a true Christmas tradition.

The Edwardian era brought with it more Santa Claus-themed cards with robes of many different colours but it wasn’t until the 1930’s when the Coca-Cola Company adopted St.Nicholas (and fattened him up a bit!) to promote it’s drinks that he became synonymous with the red and white we know and love today!

If you love vintage Christmas cards do have a look at some of the images from Raphael Tuck & Sons, De La-Rue and Marcus Ward & Co. Here’s just a very few of our favourites!

 

 


Published by annie, on 11th December 2012 at 6:36 pm. Filled under: Christmas,Vintage Activities,Vintage Arts,Vintage Events,Vintage Local History Tags: , , Comments Off on It’s Christmas Card Time!