'Tis the Season: The History of the Christmas Card.
This time of year is the Olympics for Letter Lovers: Christmas Card Season! We prepare all year for this season. There are special stamps, cards and even pens purchased just for our festive felicitations.
But why do we send Christmas Cards? When did the tradition start? And, on the back of the age of argument that letter writing is a fading art form we wondered how many Christmas Cards are indeed sent a year? Read on for these answers and a closer look at a selection of Christmas Postcards from the archive for a bit of good cheer.
A Brief History.
I promise, I will really try to keep this brief. The question "When was the first Christmas card sent?" can really be answered in two parts. Firstly, that in 1611 an ornamental festive piece of art was presented to the King of England and this was attributed as one of the earliest Christmas cards. Then, in 1843 an English Civil Servant (Govt. worker for my American readers) named Sir Henry Cole and his artist pal John Horsely devised the Christmas Card as an ancestor to the one we know well today. Something to keep in mind? The 'Black Penny' or the first U.K. stamp was launched in 1840...with the help of Sir Henry Cole. Cole just happened to be a Civil Servant in, you might have guessed by now: The Postal Service.
Christmas Cards made it to the U.S. in the late 1840s and it was an expensive business for almost fifty years! In the 1870s a German Printer named Louis Prang -- who had lived in the U.K. and been familiar with the custom there -- was living in the U.S. and produced floral, fancy Christmas Cards. Sources indicate that within a decade Prang was printing something like 5 million Christmas Cards. Then three brothers by the name of Hall -- yes, that Hall -- in 1915 started their stationery business. A small little family business today known as: Hallmark.
How Many People Send Christmas Cards?
According to Hallmark, Christmas time accounts for some 1.3 billion pieces of mail, making it the "largest card-sending holiday" according to their figures. According to an infographic from "Moo.com" in 2010 there were some 1.5 billion Christmas cards sent in the U.S. and 678.9 million in the U.K. So, voila. If you feel like stocking up on Stamps and putting on the Christmas Hits while writing friends and family beside the Christmas tree, it turns out my friend you are honoring a Centuries old tradition!
A Look in the Archive:
I had such fun dipping into the archive for Christmas Postcards. There are so many examples of Christmas Cards and Postcards coming up in future letter collections that I thought I'd go for some fantastic "one off" picks today rather than pull from a collection. Let's take a look at the history of Christmas Cards up close!
"A Happy Christmas"
If you asked an A.I. to read the internet about the history of Christmas cards and then create a card, I daresay you'd have this mahogany beauty. There's so much going on here you have to really sit with all the details! The Gold framing, the Ivy leaves -- Ivy was used in Pagan times to celebrate the Winter Solstice, and it got carried over into the Christmas decorations! -- and I think that's a very dusky St. Nicholas pulling perhaps a sled in the corner of the house illustration? For me though it's the storybook lettering that makes this truly brown Christmas card festively fit.
And what message did this piece of paper convey? Well, reader you will remember that Postcards for years were known as the "Poor Man's Telephone" and it seems that our dear indecipherable writer here managed to fit both a homewares update and holiday wishes on his! The reverse of this 1911 card, reads:
Dear Sister and Bro,
Well I that, I better no wait-any longer so sent Lizzie the money for the table this morning and ordered it - set up Sat. and hope we will all like it. A Merry Xmas with love. [unreadable]
"A Merry Christmas"
This undated card is highly stylized with a poem and impressed design. It's quite idyllic really and seems of the four featured to be the one you'd probably be most likely to pick to post today. When would you date this Postcard from? I'm saying turn of 20th Century -- probably 1910s. The inscription on this card and the lack of a postmark leave me quite confident it was hand delivered, possibly with a gift or as the gift itself.
The reverse of this card reads:
From Ollie and Carrie and [E?]mily
"A Joyous Christmas"
It's interesting after researching and writing above about the trend in the late 1800s for Christmas cards to be floral and feminine. This is absolutely a great case for that! Folks over on Twitter helped me guesstimate that these are "Forget-Me-Nots". By the King George Green Halfpenny Stamp we can date this card to at least 1912. The postmark looks like it could be a '15. What do you think, letter detectives?
The reverse of this card, reads:
Wishing you a very happy xmas. Expect you will be home! Yours, Alice M.
Holly on the "Vall"
It became popular in the 20th Century for greeting cards and Postcards to adopt funny or slightly saucy wordplay and imagery. This design seems to be poking fun at Danish culture, noting the wooden clogs and over exaggerated dialect of the text. But thankfully it's a fairly harmless representation if you can forgive the slightly frightening illustration!
I must admit in finding these in the archive, I laughed the loudest not at the front of this card but the reverse. The reverse of this 1915 card, simply reads:
How is the Chickens
Thanks for reading and for sharing in this festive edition of the Flea Market Love Letters Blog! If you're new here, welcome! We love to talk all things letters -- found letters, postal history, letter writing advocacy work -- and all that good stuff. And if you're a reader that's been with us for a little while, thanks for being here! Happy Holidays.
Get in Touch.
Do you have a collection of Christmas Cards, either "found" or inherited? Share your letter stories via Email with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.