We buy them by the boxful at Target or Hallmark. We slave over them, writing notes, or do just the opposite, writing nothing. We get them custom printed with the latest family photos. Christmas Cards – a nearly $6.5 billion industry in 2013 – are one of the staples of the Holiday season. 80% of those who buy and mail them are women. They are a major industry, and other than Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day, are the single biggest source of gift card revenue.
But, how did they start? What is the history of this ubiquitous Holiday tradition?
THE FIRST CHRISTMAS CARD
The first cards were created in Great Britain in 1843 by Sir Henry Cole. As a government employee, he was wondering if there was a way to promote the new British Postal Service. He envisioned a Christmas Card, and enlisted an artist friend of his, John Horsley, to design the card. The card was a 3-panel card (pictured above), with the two outer panels illustrating people caring for the poor, and then a center panel with a family enjoying a Christmas feast. They printed around 1000 of them, and sold them for 1 shilling each. As the British postal service began to use railways to carry mail, and as the cost of mailing itself was reduced by other efficiencies, the cost to mail these cards became reasonable for all the citizens, not just for the wealthy.
As printing improved, Christmas Cards gained in popularity, and were produced in large numbers from the middle of the 1800’s. But the late 1800’s, the cost to mail a single piece dropped even more, which opened up the Christmas Card market to even a larger segment of the British society.
The design of the cards during this time usually had the religious overtones of the season, with illustrations of the Nativity scene. In late Victorian times, other themes such as scenes of snowy villages began to appear.
In the United States, Christmas Cards began to appear in the late 1840’s, shortly after their introduction in Great Britain. However, they were expensive, which put them out of reach for most people except the wealthy. In 1875, a German immigrant by the name of Louis Prang (who happened to be a printer and worked on the early Christmas Cards in Great Britain), began to mass-produce the cards so more people could afford to purchase them. In 1915, John C. Hall and two of his brothers began the Hallmark Card company, who still have the largest share of the Christmas Card market.
Before and after WWI, home-made cards started to become the rage. These cards were much more creative, incorporating shapes, foil or even ribbon. Seeing as they were delicate in construction, they were often presented to the recipient by hand. My own family had the tradition of making our own Christmas Cards, something my parents started shortly after they married in 1952, and continued until my father suffered a stroke in 2002. Nearly 50 years of creative cards, that were kept by my parent’s friends and family members.
So, a very Merry Christmas, and I hope you get your cards out in time!
I wish to express my thanks to my loyal blog followers. At this time of year, I will take a short respite from writing to enjoy Christmas with my family, and work on some future topics. I will return after the New Year. (Of course, that isn’t to say that if I get some inspiration in the next few weeks, I may just turn out a quick post).
On that subject of blog topics, I would like to ask if you have any specific print ideas that you’d like me to research and address within the blog. Also, I would like to share more content from other print-bloggers, since together, we can come up with fascinating ideas that will enhance our knowledge of print. You may always reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at my Twitter feed, @protheropress.