A brief history of the Christmas card

Handmade Christmas cards can be traced back to fifteenth century Germany where cards with religious pictures were exchanged as seasonal gifts. The custom of sending Christmas cards by post started in Victorian England with the advent of the penny post.

One of the people who had helped introduced the penny post in 1840 was Londoner Sir Henry Cole. He clearly saw a business opportunity because three years later he commissioned an artist called John Callcott Horsley to create a Christmas card suitable for printing. In the first year over 2000 cards were printed and sold for one shilling each.

The first commercial Christmas card from 1843
The first commercial Christmas card from 1843

Horsley’s card depicted a family in a festive setting on a central panel with side panels showing acts of charity to the poor. The cards were coloured by hand. The greeting read “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You”.

The sending of Christmas cards became even more popular when Queen Victoria started sending official cards in the late 1840s. The royal families’ cards depicted significant events of the year.

The first Christmas cards to be printed in America were produced by Louis Prang in 1875. The early cards featured flowers and birds but within a few years snow scenes, log fires and fur trees began to take their place.

Alongside these commercially produced cards, home made cards continued to be popular. In many families the tradition of making Christmas cards ranked alongside stirring the Christmas cake and decorating the tree. In some cases it was a matter of economic necessity as well.

The recent revival of paper crafts and increased leisure time has led to the present popularity of making your own Christmas cards.

What are your earliest memories of producing hand made Christmas cards?

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