Where Christmas Cards Began

Oldest Christmas Card

In 2016, around £384 million was spent on Christmas cards in the UK alone. Even though we live in a world where things are becoming more and more digital, it’s great to see that the traditional form of sending season’s greetings remains popular but where did the original Christmas card come from and how have cards evolved over the years?


A long tradition

The custom of sending commercial Christmas cards dates back as far as 1843, when Sir Henry Cole (the first director of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London) suggested creating a special type of greeting to give to friends and professional contacts at Christmas time. After posing the idea to his artist friend John Callcott Horsley, the world’s first Christmas card was designed.

The card’s image was outlined in three panels: the central panel showing three generations of a family raising a toast to the recipient of the card and the two outer panels showing charitable acts, with people giving clothes and food to the poor. Designed to be sold for one shilling each, 2,050 cards were produced but Cole was ahead of his time and his creation wasn’t a commercial success.

The evolution of the Christmas card

As printing methods improved and the cost of postage went down, Christmas cards gained in popularity. In the 1960s, visiting card publisher Charles Goodall & Son commissioned four Christmas card designs that featured images such as holly and robins in the borders. This was a far cry from the imagery that had been used before, which tended to herald the arrival of spring, as opposed to spreading hope and good cheer for Christmas and the New Year.

In 1873, lithograph firm Prang and Mayer started designing cards for the mass market in the UK and by the 1880s they were creating five million cards each year. However, their success led to cheaper copycats and Prang and Mayer were eventually driven out of the market.

Over the years, the designs shown on Christmas cards have also changed. In the beginning, they tended to feature pictures such as flowers and fairies or children and animals and they included elaborately designed shapes that had no real connection to the Christmas season. Over time, these designs changed: late Victorian Britain saw the arrival of pictures of snow scenes, robins and nativity scenes and while traditional designs are still a popular choice for many, modern Christmas cards offer a whole lot more. With something to suit all tastes, we now have the choice of humorous cards, those that play music when you open them, elaborate pop-up designs and more.

Christmas Cards

There is also a growing trend, whereby people are designing their own cards to have them professionally printed. This means that they can send season’s greetings to their friends, family or business contacts in a more personal way. If this is something that appeals to you, contact us at LEFA Print to find out about our bespoke printing service.

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