Card Bored? The Origin of Christmas Cards

The practice of exchanging cards at Christmas was invented by the Englishman Sir Henry Cole in 1843. Cole was keen to make his friends aware of the need to help the poor and needy during the festive period, so he commissioned artist John Calcott Horsely (now recognised as the designer and artist of the first ever Christmas card) to paint a card showing the feeding and clothing of the poor.

However, the final design centred upon a colourful group of wealthy revelers enjoying a glass of wine and tucking into Christmas fare. On the fringes of the card, illustrated in a single shade of grey, were the depictions of the poor.

Despite the good intentions of the card, it came under fire for showing youths sipping on wine as this was considered to be ‘fostering the moral corruption of children’. The now much-used slogan read: ‘A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You’. Sir Henry sent these cards to all his friends and relatives that year and in doing so created a custom which has continued to this date. Only 1000 of these cards were printed which were sold for a shilling each (5p) in 1843 and are now much sought after collectors’ items, with one being sold for £8469 at auction in the UK in 2005.

As Christmases came and went, new card designs appeared; elaborate cards with silk and satin fringes, cards folded like fans or cut in to the shapes of birds and candles, but strangely these early cards rarely featured winter scenes.

The Christmas card custom soon became popular on the American side of the Atlantic but for more than 30 years Americans had to import their cards from England. Then, in 1875, a German immigrant called Louis Pranf, opened a lithographic shop and published the first ever U.S. Christmas card. His initial designs were unrelated to Christmas and featured simple artwork of generic flowers and birds. However, they were a huge success and by 1881 Prang was producing more than five million Christmas cards.

Christmas cards have since become a universal Christmas custom with millions being exchanged between friends and family each year across the globe. Charity Christmas cards are now an important fundraising tool for many charity organisations and the champion of child rights – Unicef – is credited with inventing this concept.

Though technology has brought us new forms of communication, such as email and e-cards, the classic Christmas card remains as popular as ever and is unlikely to die out anytime soon.


Source by Elisha Burberry

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