Christmas Card History

Season’s Greetings by Carla Gade

The first Christmas Card, designed in 1843 by Sir Henry Cole.

Season’s Greetings” is a motto more often used on winter greeting cards than as a spoken phrase.  It is an easy way to refer to the three major winter holidays that we celebrate in America – Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.  “Happy Holidays” is another common way to say it.  Here is a little history that tells how greeting cards have been sent through the ages.

The custom of sending greeting cards goes back to long ago when the people of China and Egypt sent messages of good will to one another.  In the 1400’s  people in Europe send handmade Valentines.

In the late 1700’s merchants sent their customers best wishes for the new year. The cards were created on lithographs and hand-colored. A lithograph is an etching on a stone that can be reproduced on paper.

Sending Christmas cards first became popular in England over 150 years ago.  In the 1840’s John Calcott Horsely was a curator at the royal museum.  He was late sending his usual holiday letters to his friends and relatives for Christmas.  He asked the artist, Sir Henry Cole, to design and hand-color 1,000 cards.  He wanted the card to show people being fed and clothed to remind his friends of the needs of the poor during this season.

First Christmas Card Proof

Cole’s card showed a happy family raising their glasses to toast the season.   “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You” was printed on that first card.  Horsely had a thousand copies of the card made and sent them to his friends.  But in 1843 the cards went on sale and caused quite an uproar. People said that the scene on it encouraged the immoral behavioAdd an Imager of children.

Some people disliked the idea of sending holiday greetings, thinking it was foolish.  At first, cards were not signed or mailed.  They were hand delivered by a messenger with a calling card that had the sender’s name on it.  When the Penny Post was invented people could buy a stamp for one cent,  Before that postage was expensive.  Since cards were handmade many  people could not afford to buy them. By the mid 1850’s commercial printing made the cards cost less.   Soon people were sending cards around the world.

More artists began creating beautiful cards.  In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s other card designers became popular.  Many of them were female artists and children’s illustrators.  The cards were often decorated with fringe, silk, and satin.

Americans had to import their greeting cards from England and Germany.  Then in 1875, Louis Prang, a Lithographer from Germany,  came to the U.S and opened a shop and published the first line Christmas cards in the U.S.  By 1881 he produced more than five million cards each year.

During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln asked a political cartoonist, Thomas Nast, to draw Father Christmas with the troops to cheer them up.  Nast was the first artist to show Santa Clause as a jolly man in a red suit and white beard. In 1953, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first official White House card. The cards are usually of the White House painted by famous American artists.

During the first 70 years of the 19th century it was common for Christmas and other greeting cards to be recycled by women’s service organizations who collected them and removed the pictures, to be pasted into scrap books for the entertainment of children in hospitals, orphanages, kindergartens and missions. This was before the time where many children’s picture books were printed.

In the 1950’s Americans sent about 2 billion Christmas cards.  Today the greeting card business grosses over $7.5 Billion dollars per year with about 4 billion cards purchased.  Many Americans send around twenty cards each.  A man from California sent 62,824 cards  one year, the most Christmas cards sent in history.

Now it is popular to send e-cards from a computer through the internet.  This saves on printing, paper, and postage.  No matter how you send Season’s Greetings it is a nice way to reach out to those we hold dear and wish them well for the holiday.



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