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Christmas Cards

December 12, 2011

Christmas Cards. They’ve been around awhile. I’ve never been one to send out cards although I love getting them. I remember growing up all our cards would get taped to the mantle above the fireplace. That was a good thing. My old stocking got lonely hanging there by itself.

So I got to thinking. How did this whole Christmas Card thing get started?

For that you have to go back to 1843 in jolly old England.

Sir Henry Cole was the founder of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. With such a lofty position Sir Henry had lots of acquaintances. He wanted to make his friends aware of the need to help the destitute on that Christmas holiday. He decided that handwriting the greetings would be all but impossible.

The answer. Sir Henry commissioned John Calcott Horsley to paint a card showing the feeding and clothing of the poor. A center panel displayed a happy family embracing one another, sipping wine and enjoying the festivities. (So much for good intentions. The card drew criticism because showing a child enjoying a sip of wine was considered “fostering the moral corruption of children.”) “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You” was printed on that first card. Legend says Sir Henry didn’t send any cards the following year, but the custom became popular anyway.

The First Christmas Card

Image courtesy of the Southern Methodist University Bridwell Library

This card recently sold at auction
for a record price, £22,500. LINK

Holiday cards designed by Kate Greenaway, the Victorian children’s writer and illustrator and Frances Brundage and Ellen H. Clapsaddle, were favorites in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Most were elaborate , decorated with fringe, silk and satin. Some were shaped liked fans and crescents; others were cut into the shapes of bells, birds, candles and even plum puddings. Some folded like maps or fitted together as puzzles; other squealed or squeaked. Pop-up Cards reveled tiny mangers or skaters with flying scarves gliding around a mirrored pond.

For more than 30 years, Americans had to import greeting cards from England. In 1875, Louis Prang, a German immigrant to the U.S., opened a lithographic shop with $250 and published the first line of U.S. Christmas cards. His initial creations featured flowers and birds, unrelated to the Christmas scene. By 1881, Prang was producing more than five million Christmas cards each year. His Yuletide greetings began to feature snow scenes, fir trees, glowing fireplaces and children playing with toys. His painstaking craftsmanship and lithographic printing have made his cards a favorite of collectors today. Christmas Cards have changed since the days of Sir Henry and Louis Prang. They now sport comics, jokes and clever verses. But those that picture timeless and simple settings such as excited children around a Christmas tree, Nativity scenes, nature scenes and carolers singing in the snow are still in the highest demand today.

And now with this globally connected world Christmas Cards can be delivered in the blink of an eye to computers, smartphones, and tablets connected to the world wide web. It’s gotten so easy I might even send out a card or two.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

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2 Comments
  1. December 12, 2011 11:05 am

    I bought us a couple of boxes of Christmas cards, btw. I had to – I couldn’t find any Saturnalia or Winter Solstice cards. :-/

  2. Jan permalink
    December 12, 2011 11:19 am

    :o)

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