The History of Christmas Cards
One of the first known Christmas cards sent was in 1843 by Sir Henry Cole. He was a civil servant (Government worker) who was very interested in the new ‘Public Post Office’ and was very interested how it could be used.
Sir Henry got the idea of Christmas Cards with his friend John Horsley, who was an artist. They designed the first card and sold them for 1 shilling each. About 5 pence today. The card had three panels. The outer two panels showed people caring for the poor and in the centre panel was a family having a large Christmas dinner! Some people didn’t like the card because it showed a child being given a glass of wine! About 1000 (or it might have been less!) were printed and sold. They are now very rare and would cost thousands of Pounds to buy now!
The first postal service was started in 1840 when the first ‘Penny Post’ public postal deliveries began. Before that, only very rich people could afford to send anything in the post. The new Post Office was able to offer a Penny stamp because new railways were being built. These could carry much more post than the horse and carriage that had been used before. Trains could go a lot faster. Cards became even more popular in the UK when they could be posted in an unsealed envelope for one halfpenny which was half the price of an ordinary letter. half the price of an ordinary letter.
Printing methods improved, Christmas cards became much more popular and were produced in large numbers from about 1860. In 1870 the cost of sending a post card, and also Christmas cards, dropped to half a penny. So even more people were able to send cards.
An engraved card by the artist William Egley, who illustrated some of Charles Dickens’s books, is on display in the British Museum. By the early 1900s, the custom had spread over Europe and had become especially popular in Germany.
Most of the first cards had Nativity scene on them. In late Victorian times, robins and snow-scenes were popular. The postmen were nicknamed ‘Robin Postmen’ because of the red uniforms they wore. Snow-scenes were popular because they reminded people of the very bad winter that happened in the UK in 1836.
In 1915, John C. Hall and two of his brothers created Hallmark Cards, who are still one of the biggest card makers today!
The 1910s and 1920s, homemade cards became popular. They were often unusual shapes and had things such as foil and ribbon on them. These were usually too delicate to send through the post and were given by hand.
Nowadays, cards have all sorts of pictures on them: jokes, winter pictures, Santa Claus or romantic scenes of life in past times. Charities often sell their own Christmas Cards as a way raising money at Christmas.