With Christmas just around the corner it got me thinking…
We’ve all made and received countless Christmas cards over the years but have you ever wondered where it all began?
Henry Cole was part of the ‘elite’ in early Victorian England, and had the misfortune of having too many friends.
And everybody who was anybody sent letters! Cole was quite an enthusiastic supporter of the new postal system, and he enjoyed being the 1840s equivalent of an A List Celebrity, but he was also a very busy man, fretting over what to do when there were stacks of unanswered correspondence. “In Victorian England, it was considered impolite not to answer mail,” says Ace Collins, author of Stories Behind the Great Traditions of Christmas. “He had to figure out a way to respond to all of these people.”
Cole hit on an ingenious idea. He approached an artist friend, J.C. Horsley, and asked him to design an idea that Cole had sketched out in his mind. Cole then took Horsley’s illustration—a triptych showing a family at table celebrating the holiday flanked by images of people helping the poor—and had a thousand copies made by a London printer. The image was printed on a piece of stiff cardboard 5 1/8 x 3 1/4 inches in size. At the top of each was the salutation, “TO:_____” allowing Cole to personalize his responses, which included the generic greeting “A Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year To You.”
This was the first Christmas card.
While Cole and Horsley get the credit for the first, it took several decades for the Christmas card to really catch on, both in Great Britain and the United States. Once it did, it became an integral part of our holiday celebrations—even as the definition of ‘the holidays’ became more expansive, and now includes not just Christmas and New Year’s, but Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and the Winter Solstice.
Louis Prang, a Prussian immigrant with a print shop near Boston, is credited with creating the first Christmas card originating in the United States in 1875. It was very different from Cole and Horsley’s of 30 years prior, in that it didn’t even contain a Christmas or holiday image. The card was a painting of a flower, and it simply read ‘Merry Christmas.’
This more artistic, subtle approach would categorize this first generation of American Christmas cards. “They were vivid, beautiful reproductions,” says Collins. “There were very few nativity scenes or depictions of holiday celebrations. You were typically looking at animals, nature, scenes that could have taken place in October or February.”
Appreciation of the quality and the artistry of the cards grew in the late 1800s, spurred in part by competitions organized by card publishers, with cash prizes offered for the best designs. People soon collected Christmas cards like they would butterflies or coins, and the new crop each season were reviewed in newspapers, like books or films today. How cool is that?!
“In the manufacture of Victorian Christmas cards,” wrote George Buday in his 1968 book, The History of the Christmas Card, “we witness the emergence of a form of popular art, accommodated to the transitory conditions of society and its production methods.”
The modern Christmas card industry arguably began in 1915, when a Kansas City-based fledgling postcard printing company started by Joyce Hall, later to be joined by his brothers Rollie and William, published its first holiday card. The Hall Brothers company (which, a decade later, change its name to Hallmark), soon adapted a new format for the cards—4 inches wide, 6 inches high, folded once, and inserted in an envelope.
“They discovered that people didn’t have enough room to write everything they wanted to say on a post card,” says Steve Doyal, vice president of public affairs for Hallmark, “but they didn’t want to write a whole letter.”
We can all send messages, e-cards and correspondence instantly to one another nowadays but there’s still something magical about receiving a card in the post, especially a handmade one.
Today, I would like to thank all of you – the customers, fans, blog followers and friends. You have all been so supportive, amazing and inspiring to me, personally. My first year of crafting has been an incredible experience – and so this is especially for you…
‘Christmas Cheer’ aperture card – with a difference…
Front Aperture angle:
As there is usually nowhere to write in aperture cards, I have made a smaller card to fit on the back. Now there is plenty of room inside for a personal message…
Closed Front View:
This folds flat and can fit into a standard 6×6 CWC envelope, albeit it is a little heavier than your standard card.
Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed my special Christmas edition blog post today and also the aperture with a difference card designed with you in mind.
Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to all you amazing crafters!
Lots and lots of love