No festive season would be complete without a selection of traditional and modern design personalised Christmas cards neatly displayed on the mantelpiece. These seasonal greetings cards are bought, or handmade, and mailed out to family and friends in ever growing numbers every year.
But do you know the origins of the humble Christmas card that boomed into a major industry?
An Inspired Idea
It was in the lead up to the festive season of 1843, that the prominent educator and patron of the Arts, Sir Henry Cole became inspired by a quaint Victorian England custom.
Sir Cole, who was fond of socialising, moved in elite social circles that allowed him to establish a great number of friendships. But keeping in touch with everyone in his bulging contacts book was causing Henry to have anxiety. He needed a means of sending seasonal correspondence that wouldn’t require him to spend endless nights putting pen to paper.
It was the recent expansion of the British postal system, and the introduction of the ‘Penny Post’– that allowed people to send a card or letter anywhere in the country, by affixing a penny stamp to the envelope – that inspired Sir Cole to create a decorative greetings card to mail to all of his friends.
The First Christmas Card In England
As you sit down to write your personalised Christmas cards this year, spare a thought for the creation of the first seasonal greetings card…
In order to create a memorable festive motif, Sir Cole commissioned an artist friend, J.C. Horsley, to design an illustrated triptych featuring a family celebration centrepiece, framed with additional images of people helping the poor and needy. The artistic design was printed on cardboard. So that Sir Cole could easily personalise his hefty pile of correspondence, a salutation and generic greeting was also added.
‘A Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year To You’ is the message you would have read, if you had been one of lucky recipients of the first English personalised Christmas cards to be sent in the post.
A Seasonal Trend
Cole’s circle of friends were pleasantly surprised to receive such an ingenious Christmas card in the post, and were keen to adopt the new seasonal trend that would save them plenty of writing time.
As with all types of popular trends, the original Christmas card was soon copied by other prominent and influential people. In the UK, it would take several decades before Christmas cards become a staple part of the festive customs and traditions.
The First Christmas Card In The United States
As people in the UK celebrated Christmas by sending family and friends personalised Christmas cards, it wasn’t until 1875 that the trend crossed the Atlantic Ocean.
It took a Prussian immigrant named Louis Prang to introduce the Christmas card concept to the United States. The owner of a print shop, located on the outskirts of Boston, Prang designed an artistic festive card that was decorated with a reproduction print of a floral painting. Its no-fuss message read ‘Merry Christmas’.
By the turn of the century, Christmas cards featuring nature and landscapes were all the rage in the USA. The latest high quality must-have designs were even featured and reviewed in the newspapers. Some people became avid collectors of the beautiful artistic designs that were presented on the holiday season’s greetings cards.
Establishing The Christmas Card Custom
In 1915, the Kansas City based Hall Brothers postcard printing company published its first Christmas card. The company that would eventually become known as Hallmark created a unique design format for their original seasonal holiday cards.
As a standard postcard doesn’t provide sufficient space to write a personalised message, the ‘book format’ Christmas cards measured a more generous 4 inches (W) by 6 inches (H). By folding the cards once, they were ready to insert inside an envelope. The front of the seasonal cards were decorated with images that included cheery festive scenes, the stars of Bethlehem, or a jolly Santa Claus all dressed up in his iconic red suit.
To keep up with the growing demand for Christmas cards that could be customised, many famous artists of the day – including Salvador Dali, Norman Rockwell and Grandma Moses – were commissioned to design a series of holiday cards.
And although many of the commissioned artist cards still remain in print, it’s a simple design that is the most popular Christmas card ever. ‘Three Little Angels’ features a charming illustration of two cherubic angels bowing in prayer, with a third, blue-eyed angel peering outwardly while wearing a halo that is slightly askew. The best-selling seasonal design was mailed in the post an estimated 36 millions times in the first two decades since it was launched
Modern Day Christmas Card Trends
Sending customised Christmas cards has long been an integral part of our preparations for festive celebrations with family and friends. Although people who are environmentally conscious may now prefer to send greetings in the form of an e-card, there is still a high demand for modern day Christmas cards that are traditional in design.
If you’re artistically minded and creative, you may like to handcraft your personalised Christmas cards using a selection of decorative embellishments that complement the season. If you want to impress your friends, you can always commission a luxury bespoke Christmas card design that incorporates a stunning family photograph on the front of the card, and a personal message inside.