One of the most heartwarming parts of the festive season, sending cards to friends and family is a custom that began more than 150 years ago
One of the most heartwarming traditions of the festive season, the sending of cards to friends and family is a custom that began more than 150 years ago
When Sir Henry Cole commissioned the artist John Callcott Horsley to design the first Christmas card, the concept was disapproved of by those who believed that its imagery wasn’t in keeping with the season’s religious focus. Nevertheless, a thousand were printed, then sold at his shop for one shilling each (a high price at the time) and the tradition was born.
1910 Early example of a photographic Christmas card
Photography emerged in the 1830s but wasn’t used to make cards until much later. Even then, coloured images could only be created by handpainting black-and-white prints, hence the limited palette.
In 1836, there was extremely heavy snowfall followed by similarly white winters in the 1840s and 50s. As a result, Christmas cards with snow scenes started to become fashionable as they are to this day.
1860 A robin perches on a windowsill
Until 1840, postage was too expensive for most but, thanks to the introduction of the penny post, cards became more accessible. After that, the practice rapidly increased, with 11.5 million cards being produced in 1880 alone.
Early 1900s Father Christmas
Some version of St Nicholas has existed since the third century, and until the 1930s he was depicted in blue and green as well as red. It wasn’t until an advertising campaign by a certain red-themed drinks company that he became exclusively crimson-suited.
1926 The Holly Fairy
Historically, evergreen plants such as holly, ivy and mistletoe were the only means of brightening up less-affluent homes during the dark winter months. This tradition was and still is reflected in Christmas cards, as depicted here in an illustration by Flower Fairies creator Cicely Mary Barker in 1926.
1910 The village pub
As the practice of card giving grew, so did the popularity of festive imagery portraying drinking, feasting and merrymaking, much to the consternation of the devout. Even this image of a visit to a country pub may have been frowned upon.
1850s Religious etching
Before cards were exchanged, woodprints and etchings showing important religious scenes had been shared at Christmas since the Middle Ages. Time-consuming and intricate, they were created by carving an image onto a wooden or metal plate.
1920s Children watching birds in the snow
People nicknamed Royal Mail postmen “robin redbreasts” owing to the crimson waistcoats they wore from the mid-1800s. During this time, robins began to appear on Christmas cards as symbols of the men who delivered them.
TOP This Victorian card from 1889 showed a candlelit church as a warm and welcoming place of worship