When the holidays are approaching, one thing on many people’s list of things to buy is Christmas cards.
We send them to family members, friends, neighbors, and co-workers.
Many people also give cards to their mail carrier, door attendants, and other people who help them out during the years.
Have you ever wondered how sending Christmas cards first got started?
The custom actually started in the United Kingdom.
The New Public Record Office
In 1843, Sir Henry Cole, a senior civil servant, helped set up the New Public Record Office, which we know today as the post office.
There, he held the job of Assistant Keeper. At the time, only the very rich could afford to send letters.
Sir Henry wanted to find a way for everyone to be able to afford to send mail.
In 1840, the first “Penny Post” public postal deliveries began, and Sir Henry helped set up the whole thing.
Because new railways were being built, the new Post Office was able to offer the “penny stamp.”
The new trains would be able to carry many more letters than a horse and buggy could, and the letters would arrive much faster.
Now that the average person could afford to send mail, Sir Henry had to find something for them to send to get everyone accustomed to using the post office.
Sir Henry got together with a friend of his named John Horsley, who was an artist. Together, they designed Christmas cards so that people could send them to their loved ones.
The first card had a patented design, with three panels.
- The two outer panels contained pictures of people caring for the poor.
- The center panel had a picture of a family sitting down to a large Christmas dinner.
They were going to sell the cards for just 1 shilling each, which was affordable for the average person.
When the cards were advertised, the slogan read, “Christmas Congratulations Card available to share between friends.” The first year, they sold about 1,000 cards.
More Styles, Better Prices
During the 1860s, printing methods improved, which made it possible to produce cards in larger numbers. Also, the new technology made it possible for more styles to be offered.
Popular Christmas cards included the Nativity scene and robins in snow scenes. The latter was very popular at the time to remind people of the harsh winter the UK suffered in 1836.
In 1870, the cost to send a postcard or a Christmas card dropped to half a penny. This made it possible for people to send twice as many Christmas cards.
The United States
Sending Christmas cards started in the United States in the late 1840s. At the time, they were very expensive, and most people couldn’t afford to send them.
A German printer named Louis Prang wanted everyone to be able to send Christmas cards, so in 1875, they were mass-produced so that they would be more affordable.
He was actually one of the people who worked on the early Christmas cards in the UK, before heading to the United States. His designs consisted of mostly children, flowers, and plants.
When John C. Hall and two of his brothers saw how lucrative mass producing Christmas cards could be, they started making them under this business name, Hallmark Cards.
Today, it is one of the biggest card makers around. Hallmark Cards makes greeting cards for all occasions.
Today, many people send personalized Christmas cards with family photos. The first time a personalized Christmas card was sent was in 1891. Annie Oakley was a famous sharpshooter and starred in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show.
In Christmas 1891, he was performing in Glasgow, Scotland. She wanted to send cards back to her friends and family members in the U.S., and she sent a card with a photo of herself wearing tartan.
She designed the cards herself and had them created by a local printer.
This was the first personalized card ever sent, and today, they are very popular. Today, there are computer programs available that make it possible for people to create their own personalized cards at home.
People started to make their own Christmas cards in the 1910s and the 1920s. People used foil, ribbons, glitter, and other decorative materials to make their cards beautiful and unique.
Making homemade cards also gave the sender a chance to write their own personalized greeting inside.
Because homemade cards were so delicate, they were often hand-delivered.
Today, children in school often make homemade Christmas cards for their parents and loved ones.
During the early 1900s in Denmark, a postal worker saw how popular sending Christmas cards had become.
He thought that charities could make money from the seals or stickers used to seal the envelopes. If the stickers or seals were decorative, people wouldn’t mind donating to the charities.
The idea was a great success, and in the first year, over four million were sold, and the money was donated to charity.
Soon, the custom spread to Sweden, Norway, and then all over Europe. Finally, the United States caught on, and it is still a common practice today.
Many charities sell their own cards for people to send out.
Modern Christmas Cards
Modern Christmas cards come in a wide variety. You can find cards that feature Santa, winter scenes, and religious scenes.
Also, you can find funny Christmas cards, romantic cards, and simple cards. There are so many available that it is easy to find a card for everyone on your Christmas card list.
When you go out to buy your Christmas cards to let your friends and family know that you are thinking about them, you should thank Sir Henry Cole.
He is the one who started it all. In hopes of finding a way for the average person to send mail, he started a Christmas tradition that has lasted for centuries all around the world.
Learn More With the Help of Video
Main Points About Christmas Cards
- Every year, so much is spent (several billions of dollars) on Christmas cards. Each year, it keeps increasing.
- Christmas cards can be traced back to the English. They were originally written by boys who were putting their writing skills to the test.
- During the Victorian times, the Christmas card at that time showed a robin delivering a Christmas mail.
- Henry Cole was the man who commissioned the first Christmas card in London.
- The first commissioned Christmas card was a hand-colored piece of art on stiff, dark cardboard, with the message that read: “A merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you.”
Working in sir Henry Cole, the “Public Record Office”, now the Post Office, in 1843, Sir Henry Cole thought about how this place could come to use for ordinary people and came up with the idea of Christmas Cards together with his friend.
They started designing cards and selling them for 1 shilling, and as they developed and could be set without an envelope for half the cost, they became more and more popular.
Word Cloud for Christmas Cards
The following is a collection of the most used terms in this article on Christmas Cards. This should help in recalling related terms as used in this article at a later stage for you.
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Chara Yadav holds MBA in Finance. Her goal is to simplify finance-related topics. She has worked in finance for about 25 years. She has held multiple finance and banking classes for business schools and communities. Read more at her bio page.