To some, a Christmas card is such a little thing. However, the card is much more. It has the special ability to lift spirits and let others know they are being though of during the holidays. It has a considerable impact on the economy, and those little cards play a major role in the finances of the United States Postal Service.
Hallmark alone, sells 1.4 million Christmas cards annually.
So where did this tradition begin?
The world’s first commercially produced Christmas card was designed in 1843 by John Callcott Horsley for Henry Cole, the man who had helped introduce the Penny Post just three years before. The design he created turned out to be a bit controversial. The picture on the card was one of a family. Sounds Christmasy, except the small child in the family was drinking wine with the family. Nonetheless, they printed two runs of the cards, a total of 2,050 individual cards. The cards were sold for one shilling each.
Today’s cards often feature glistening winter scenes. But those early cards produced in England rarely were adorned with frosty visions. Instead, they displayed designs of flowers, fairies, and scenes that hinted at the coming of spring. Many of the early cards used humor. Others played on the sentimental side. They depicted children and animals. Few of the early cards were rectangles. They were cut in unique shapes.
In the 1840’s, Queen Victoria began sending out “official” Christmas greeting cards. The cards traditionally featured portraits of the British Royal Family.
It wasn’t until 1875 that Christmas cards were commercially printed and sold in the United States. Louis Prang created cards of exceptional quality. As the idea caught on, other printers created cheaper cards, and Prang was driven out of business. Other changes were in store for the card industry. The postcard came on the scene and the very ornate, intricately cut Victorian cards were replaced with those of more economical and simpler lines. For a while the postcard was very popular. However, people often preferred to write special messages on the cards they sent and a return to enclosing the cards in envelopes returned in the 1920’s.
It wasn’t until 1953 that official White House Christmas cards were issued. The first were sent out in 1953 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The White House cards typically depict scenes created by American artists. In 1961, when they were sent out, the White House Christmas card list consisted of 2,000 names. The official cards became collectors items and were wildly popular. By 2005, the White House list had grown to 1.4 million.
Cards throughout the years often reflect history. During the World Wars, many cards featured patriotic scenes. The pictures on some are of famous buildings like Mount Vernon, The Biltmore, or even the National Capitol. It has become a tradition for many families to take a special photo and have their own personal cards printed.
With modern technology, some have taken to printing their own cards, and others who are more environmentally conscience, have begun to send e-cards through the Internet. This has caused a decline in the number of cards sent. With that said, in the United Kingdom alone, 668.9 million Christmas cards were sold in 2008.
Judging by these numbers, the little thing started by Horsley and Cole isn’t a little thing anymore.
Photo 1: Fossil HD Cover
Photo 2: The First Christmas Card. Credit: Public Domain
Photo 3: The first known photograph of Queen Victoria