Holiday Collectibles: Christmas Cards Since 1843

UnknownBy Chuck Thompson


   There is some controversy as to which was the first legitimate “Christmas card.” Some accounts say Sir Henry Cole, first Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, was first with the idea of a Christmas greeting card. In 1843, artist John C. Horsley was commissioned by Cole to design his first card.
   The artist’s first card was an oblong, unfolded sheet, with a rustic bower forming a frame for three illustrations. The central scene showed a typical middle-class Victorian family at a banquet table, drinking to the health of the card’s recipient. A second scene of feeding the hungry at Christmas was shown. The card also depicted a charitable soul clothing the naked. A banner stretched across the bottom of the central scene displayed the greeting, “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You.”
   Artist Horsley became the first person to send a Christmas card when he presented Cole with a signed copy of his original design. The card was inscribed: To his good friend Cole, Who’s a merry young soul, And a merry young soul is he: And may he be for many years to come! Hooray! Sir Henry Cole had a thousand copies of this first card printed. Less than a dozen are known to exist today. Two of these are in the Hallmark Historical Collection. This collection of 70,000 cards is the world’s largest and most representative museum of greeting cards.
Unknown-2   Other accounts credit William Egley with printing the very first Christmas card, one year before Cole and Horsley. Egley’s card was remarkably similar to Horsley’s.
   Although Christmas cards were opposed by some critics, the cards were accepted immediately by the general population. Within 20 years the Christmas card had become tradition in Victorian Christmas celebrations.
   Many early cards were very elaborate. Much like some Victorian Valentines, Christmas cards of this period were often adorned with layers of lace, silk fringes, ribbons or satin. One Victorian Christmas card consists of 750 pieces of material stitched together.
   Bavarian-born Boston lithographer Louis Prang published the first Christmas cards in the United States in 1874. His cards were first produced for export to England, since the custom of sending greeting cards at Christmas had not yet started in America. However, Prang’s cards were sold here the next year and Christmas card activity became permanent. Soon, there were collectors.
Annual Georgetown Christmas Market December 2 & 3 and December 9 and 10
   Outdoor European Marketplace, FREE Holiday Entertainment, Hot Roasted Chestnuts, Horse Drawn Wagon Rides, Appearances by St. Nicholas, Saint Lucia Children’s Procession, Christmas Museum Tours at Hotel de Paris, Hamill House and Georgetown Energy Museum.
Unknown-1   Photos from the Hotel de Paris

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