When did people start sending out Christmas cards?
175 years agoThe first printed Christmas card
Robins, reindeer, Santa Clauses. Every year again. Christmas cards have been on display in British shops since late summer. With good reason. No country, not even the United States, has so many cards sent out. An elaborate undertaking that cannot be started early enough, says Jane, manager of a stationery store in London:
"We have personalized cards in all variants: to the aunt, to the uncle, from the aunt, from the uncle. To the pastor and the teacher. Cards from the house to the neighboring house, from the cat, from the dog - to the cat, to the Dog. In short: everything your heart desires. "
Just no time
Even Henry Cole would not have dreamed of this when he commissioned the first Christmas card on December 5, 1843. Cole, co-founder of the world famous Victoria and Albert Museum in London, was a Victorian polymath. And because he simply didn't have time to provide all his friends and colleagues with individual Christmas messages in the run-up to the festive season, he quickly commissioned the illustrator John Calcott Horsley to design a greeting card that was easy to reproduce and that could quickly be given a dedication and could sign.
Tim Travis of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, which has a huge collection of maps, pulls out one of the first copies from 1843, signed by Henry Cole himself:
"The card is slightly smaller than a postcard and consists of three scenes. The two smaller pictures on the left and right show charitable motifs. In the middle picture, however, we see three generations of the Cole family at the festively decorated Christmas table: they eat plum pudding, drink wine and toast to the recipient of the card with the words: 'A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you'. "
The enterprising Henry Cole had a thousand cards printed and hand-colored with the motif designed by John Calcott Horsley and put them on the market for one shilling each. But that was too expensive for most people - a shilling, for a factory worker had to toil for a whole day. It was also feared that the image of the Christmas party could undermine Victorian values because even the smallest offspring of the Cole family held a glass of wine in their hand. However, uplifting and pious themes didn't play a role on the early Christmas cards anyway, according to Travis:
"The first Christmas cards were adorned with flowers and romantic spring scenes so that they looked more like a Valentine's card. There is a simple explanation for this: Valentine's cards had long been popular with the Victorians. Christmas cards, on the other hand, were regarded by most publishers as an ephemera they didn't want to invest in new printing plates, but instead used existing templates for Valentine's cards and changed them accordingly so that they could also be used for Christmas cards. "
German Christmas cards popular with the English
It would take over 20 years for the Christmas card to become really popular in the UK too. This had to do with innovations in printing technology, which led to lower prices, and postage rates were also drastically reduced. Only now did the typical Christmas card motifs emerge with their winter scenes, Santa Clauses, golden angels and nativity scenes:
"The iconography we are all familiar with was primarily inspired by Victorian literature. Charles Dickens' novel 'A Christmas Carol' - for example, had a great influence. At the same time, Prince Albert - Queen Victoria's German husband - a whole series of German Christmas traditions on the island, such as the Christmas tree, the Advent calendar ... Incidentally, German Christmas cards were extremely popular with the English, because in Germany new printing methods had been developed so that the cards could be produced in large quantities and sold particularly cheaply "said Travis.
In today's UK, Christmas cards are a billion dollar business. According to statistics, every British household can expect around 150 greeting cards. Of the thousand cards that were printed in the winter of 1843, only a dozen survive. A copy was auctioned a few years ago for the equivalent of 25,000 euros.
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