First Commercial Christmas Card Sent
The 23rd of December 1843 AD
The Post Office has only itself to blame for the untold millions of Christmas cards it has to deliver every year, for the inventor of that institution – at least in printed commercial form – was one of its own, namely Henry Cole , assistant to Rowland Hill and possible designer of the Penny Black .
A brief look at Cole’s CV will explain why he had too little time to write a full letter to his many friends and relations, coming up with the printed card idea instead: he founded the Victoria and Albert Museum ; was the organising genius behind the 1852 Great Exhibition ; wrote children’s stories; reformed the National Archives; and even designed a tea-pot for Minton in Stoke-on-Trent .
When faced with the call on his time that festive notes demanded, he came up with the idea of printed cards, and commissioned his friend, Torquay -based artist John Calcott Horsley, to design one. Horsley came up with a triptych, Cole’s family, some (including controversially then as it would be now a child) with glasses raised in a toast, in the central panel flanked by ones depicting clothing the naked and feeding the hungry, the entire card embellished with ivy. The motto A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You appeared beneath the image of the family.
The precise date in 1843 on which Cole sent his first card is open to debate, but at least one source firmly gives it as December 23, that timing saying much about the backward march of postal services since Victorian times. So successful was the project that similar cards were soon put on sale, and rapidly became a British tradition.
Fittingly a copy of Cole’s first card is to be found at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
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