History of Christmas cards

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The history of the Christmas card dates back to 1843 when British civil servant and inventor, Sir Henry Cole, found himself with a problem. Sir Henry was very well known, due to his many innovations in commerce and education, but this meant that he received many letters from the social elite at Christmas.  A quaint custom in the 19th Century was to send out a Christmas and New Year letter, encouraged in part by the expansion of the British postal service and the introduction of the Penny Post.  The Penny Post provided a safe and secure way of sending a letter or card anywhere in the country for a fixed fee of one penny.

firstchristmascardSir Henry came up with the ingenious idea of making a card and discussed this with his friend, J.C.Horsley, who he encouraged to design a card based on an idea he sketched out on a piece of paper.  Horsley returned to his friend with what is now known as the very first Christmas card.  The design featured a family feasting at a table flanked by images of people helping those living in poverty.  The wording “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you”, with space to write “to” and “from” formed the front of the stiff cardboard design, and that was the very first Christmas card.  Around 1000 cards were initially printed and some originals still exist today.

Meanwhile many years later in the USA, a Prussian immigrant created the first American Christmas card. The card, which was printed in 1875, was simple and featured the painting of a flower with the wording “Merry Christmas”.

George Buday published a book called The History of the Christmas Card in 1968 and explored how Christmas card art had, over a period of nearly 100 years, illustrated not only the traditional nativity and winter scenes, but also “the transitory conditions of society and its production methods”.  

In the early 1900 a quick-thinking postal worker in Denmark is attributed to be the idea behind the modern-day charity Christmas card.  The worker, whilst making his daily rounds, thought that money could be made from the cards and be used to help charities.  The idea was an instant success, with 4 million cards being printed in the very first year.  The idea spread and is now a popular way for charities to raise money at Christmas.



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