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Where do Christmas cards come from?

First ever commercially produced Christmas cardEver wondered where the tradition of sending Christmas cards originated? I did, so I undertook a little research (okay, I googled it and did some reading on Wikipedia). Here’s what I learnt …

The general consensus is the first commercial Christmas cards were created by the Englishman Henry Cole. In 1843, Henry (later Sir Henry) teamed up with illustrator John Callcott Horsley to design a card showing a happy family scene in the centre, with panels either side showing various benevolent souls providing charity to the poor.

The initial two print runs produced 2,050 cards, which were sold for a shilling each. It didn’t hurt that Cole had helped introduce the Penny Post service a few years earlier, making it affordable for the masses to send items through the post, something that had previously been the exclusive domain of the wealthy. The fact that the image included a depiction of a young girl having a sip from an adult’s glass of wine apparently caused something of a stir at the time, but didn’t seem to affect sales.

Interestingly, early Christmas cards tended to eschew religious iconography, and instead many featured images of spring (reminding northern hemisphere SAD-afflicted recipients that another season was just around the corner) or, alternatively, they offered humorous or sentimental depictions of children and animals.

As printing techniques improved (lowering costs), the popularity of the cards spread to Europe (the Germans in particular embraced the concept) and later the US, where a German immigrant named Louis Prang began mass producing Christmas cards and selling them to North American consumers in 1874.

It was another American, Joyce Hall however, who perhaps did more than anyone else to popularise the concept of Christmas cards when, in 1910, he formed the company whose name is now synonymous with the entire greeting card industry – Hallmark.

Image: Public domain

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