By now, Christmas and Holiday Cards have become such a tradition that we hardly give much thought to their history. But the story of their invention is certainly a relatable one, especially for those who find Christmas shopping overwhelming. So, where did Christmas cards come from?
Sir Henry Cole and the Misfortune of Too Many Friends
In 1843, Sir Henry Cole had a problem. As an educator and prominent patron of the arts, he was nearly a celebrity. According to the Smithsonian, he had “the misfortune of having too many friends.” During the holidays, it became increasingly difficult to keep up with all of them. As the days until Christmas dwindled, he found himself with an endless stack of letters from friends, acquaintances, and general well-wishers. The British postal system had made it easier (and cheaper) than ever to send letters through the mail, and in Victorian England, it was considered impolite to leave a letter unanswered. So, Sir Henry Cole had an idea.
The Making of the First Modern Christmas Card
Along with an artist friend, J. C. Horsley, Cole designed the first modern Christmas card. With a simple To: / From: greeting, this initial postcard design focused on art rather than language. Horsley’s illustration depicts a large family gathered at a table, toasting the holiday. On either side, there are images of charity and goodwill. The images are brought together with an ornate wood and ivy frame around a banner that reads: “A Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year to You.”
The design was a success, and Sir Henry Cole was saved. Within a few years, several of his friends picked up the practice, re-circulating Horsley’s exact design and signing it themselves. However, it would take decades for this idea to spread to a larger audience.
Spreading Christmas Joy Worldwide
By 1875, the Christmas card had reached the United States. An immigrant named Louis Prang is credited with printing the first cards in a little print shop near Boston. By 1915, the Hall Brothers Postcard Company (which would later become Hallmark) had transformed the card into what we now use today. Expanding the original postcard into a new, folded card with an envelope, the Hall brothers created a form that offered more space than before while still serving as a convenient alternative to the letter.
Throughout the 20th century, the Christmas card would only grow in popularity. People began collecting early designs, companies held competitions for new artwork, newspapers wrote critical reviews of the latest cards, and even a book-length historical study was published (see George Buday’s 1954 History of the Christmas Card).
Hallmark and other major companies began marketing the Christmas card to even broader audiences, commissioning famous artists, such as Norman Rockwell, Grandma Moses, and even Salvador Dali (whose beautifully bizarre designs were quickly discontinued). However, the most common designs have often been hand-painted nature scenes that evoke the beauty of the season.
Beautiful Contemporary Christmas Cards
Today, the Christmas card is perhaps closer than ever to its roots. Having survived the mass commercialism of the 1950s, the Christmas card is once again at home in smaller, niche card shops across the country.
At Falling Leaf Card Co., we are proud to continue this tradition, with our selection of artistic Christmas and holiday greeting cards. Whether you’re looking for hand-painted artwork or unique designs… whether you want to shop “small” or the holiday chaos has left you feeling as overwhelmed as Sir Henry Cole, we’re proud to serve you.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, from all of us to you.
Find these designs and more from Falling Leaf Card Co.