Christmas Cards

The First Commercially Produced Christmas Cards

In England, in 1843, Sir Henry Cole asked John Callcott Horsley to illustrate a card that he could have printed. He had a thousand copies made and then sent some out as answers to his mail. That way, he wouldn’t have to actually answer all the letters he had received and wouldn’t be considered rude either. The cards had a place to put the persons name and said “A Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year to You.” It was considerably easier to send these because of the postal systems that were becoming more common such as Penny Post, which Cole had a hand in.

Cole and Horsley Christmas Card
Card by Prang

It took a few years for Christmas cards to become really popular. Louis Prang had a print shop in Boston and in 1875 they had made their first Christmas card for the American market. Their first card was a flower with the words “Merry Christmas” on it. The designs varied over the years with the designs being more traditional holiday images. When a more inexpensive option started to come in from Germany, Prang decided to retire rather than make any compromises or changes. He is still considered the “father of the American Christmas card.”

1967, President Johnson’s White House Christmas Card

Modern Christmas Cards

The “official” Christmas card began with the familial images of Victoria and Albert in the 1840s. In 1953, President Eisenhower sent out the first official White House Christmas card. This has continued each year with the list of recipients growing.

Over time, many of these cards have become collectors items along with the stamps and other Christmas items. Many collectors look for the Santa’s, Nativity scenes or other particular Christmas images and those that were created by specific artists. The most expensive one to be bought and sold is one of the original cards by Horsley and Cole.

The actual act of sending Christmas cards has dwindled down quite a bit. Many, if they still do it at all, probably just send a card via email to their list of recipients. Most people who still send out actual cards only send out a select few each year. You always have those stragglers, it seems, that you missed. You need to send a card to them because they weren’t on your original list or you didn’t have an address for them. That sounds vaguely familiar. Doesn’t that sound like Sir Cole having to answer his mail? At least we have a postal system that’s been in place longer than three years.


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