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The History of the Christmas Card

History of the Christmas Card

In present day, it's a pretty common practice to send Christmas Cards to family, friends, neighbors and even customers.  But it wasn't always so easy to send wishes for peace and prosperity.  In fact, Christmas Cards are a fairly new concept in the history of mankind.  Have you ever wondered just how these special greetings came to be?


Prior to 1846, it was tradition at Christmas to send letters of well wishes and gratitude to family, friends and customers.  Each was handwritten and time consuming.


So, in the midst of an extremely busy holiday, London printer Henry Cole invented a way to thank his customers for their patronage while minimizing the laborious task of letter writing.  He commissioned artist John Horsely to design a "Christmas greeting" that could be mass-produced.


There were 1,000 original cards printed using only black ink outlines.  Hand-applied colors quickly brought the "happy family gaily toasting their glasses to the recipient" to life.  Labeled the "Old King" Cole card, critics condemned it for promoting drunkenness...not good will.


Convinced this would never become a British "tradition", Henry Cole continued to mail these cards only to his customers.


But Charles Goodall & Sons of London realized the potential of a mass-produced greeting.  They began printing and selling one-color Christmas Cards to the public in 1862.  As convenience won out over the handwritten notes, more and more people decided to make the pre-printed greeting a part of their holiday.


By 1865, Boston lithographer Louis Prang introduced multi-colored cards for sale to the public.  Their design was simple.  Displaying only the phrase "A Merry Christmas", they received a popular response in Europe.  More embellishments were added every year, making Prang's business very successful.  So, in 1875 he decided to tap into the exciting market in America.  And that, as they say, was just the beginning.  The manufacture of Christmas cards was big business by 1880 and has been a part our holiday traditions ever since.


Of course, there have been real-life "Scrooges" as long as there has been Christmas.  As early as 1871, a newspaper article suggested that the mass mailing of Christmas cards was interfering with the timely delivery of "legitimate correspondence".  But nothing could halt the ever-growing popularity of Christmas cards.


In present day, the post office processes millions of holiday greetings every year.  And even though the digital age of E-Cards has diminished the popularity of paper cards, it's obvious that Christmas cards, in one form or another, will always be a part of our Christmas traditions.





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