The First Noels

Reminisce - - Our Lives -

Henry Cole, an English civil ser­vant with an in­ter­est in art, is cred­ited with mail­ing the first mass-pro­duced Christ­mas card in 1843. The story goes that with the hol­i­day ap­proach­ing, Cole was too busy to write in­di­vid­ual greet­ings, so he thought of send­ing a gen­eral mes­sage.

Cole’s friend and artist John Call­cott Hors­ley did a sketch of a fam­ily cel­e­brat­ing their hol­i­day din­ner, cap­tioned “A Merry Christ­mas and a Happy New

Year to You.” Cole had 1,000 cards printed (many were hand­col­ored), send­ing some and of­fer­ing oth­ers for sale at a shilling each—about a week’s pay for an av­er­age worker at the time.

The cards gen­er­ated a back­lash be­cause Hors­ley’s sketch fea­tured a woman help­ing a child to a tip­ple of Christ­mas wine.

Orig­i­nal Coles are col­lectibles; one sold for more than $28,000 in 2001.

Christ­mas cards caught on in the United States af­ter 1875, when expert lithog­ra­pher Louis Prang added them to his New Eng­land publishing busi­ness.

Within six years, Prang had a boom­ing trade in hol­i­day cards. He was pro­duc­ing 5 mil­lion a year, and his Roxbury, Mas­sachusetts, fac­tory was a tourist at­trac­tion.

Prang ran an­nual card-de­sign com­pe­ti­tions to pro­mote the work of lesser-known artists, es­pe­cially fe­male painters.

His cards were known for their qual­ity, and many of them fea­tured fringes, tas­sels and other em­bel­lish­ments.

The greet­ing card in­dus­try’s an­nual de­sign awards, The Louies, are named in honor of Prang.

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