Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Holiday Traditions: Christmas Cards

The tradition of sending Christmas cards to friends and family dates back to the Victorian period in England. 
The first commercial Christmas cards were commissioned by Sir Henry Cole for the British Postal Service in London in 1843 and featured an illustration by British artist John Callcott Horsley. The center panel showed a family with children, parents and grandparents raising their glasses in a Christmas toast. The side panels featured acts of Christmas charity: feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. 

The inscription read "A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You." Two batches totaling 2,050 cards were printed and sold that year for a shilling each. 

"Official" Christmas cards began with Queen Victoria in the 1840s. Early English cards rarely showed winter or religious themes, instead favoring flowers, fairies and other fanciful designs that reminded the recipient of the approach of spring. Humorous and sentimental images of children and animals were popular, as were increasingly elaborate shapes, decorations and materials. 

In 1875, Louis Prang became the first printer to offer cards in America, though the popularity of his cards led to cheap imitations that eventually drove him from the market. The advent of the postcard spelled the end for elaborate Victorian-style cards, but by the 1920s, cards with envelopes had returned. In 1953, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first official White House card.

The production of Christmas cards was, throughout the 20th century, a profitable business for many stationery manufacturers, with the design of cards continually evolving with changing tastes and printing techniques. The World Wars brought cards with patriotic themes. Idiosyncratic "studio cards" with cartoon illustrations and risqué humor caught on in the 1950s.

Here are a few examples of cards available today:

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