Sunday, November 28, 2010

The First Christmas Card

For centuries, hand made, written cards and notes with goodwill verses have been sent by hand or post.  

Sir Henry Cole, the founder of London's Victoria and Albert Museum, had sent many handwritten cards previously but one year he commissioned John Calcott Horsley to paint a card showing the feeding and clothing of the poor. That year was 1843, the same year Charles Dickens wrote  A Christmas Carol.

1,000 of these Christmas cards were printed lithographically by Hobbins of Warwick Court, Holborn, London.  They were printed on a single piece of pasteboard measuring 5" x 3.25" and were hand colored by an artist named Mason.

This advert for the card appeared in the Athenaeum paper:
'Just published. A Christmas Congratulation Card: or picture emblematical of Old English Festivity to Perpetuate kind recollections between Dear Friends.'


Cole used as many as he required and the rest were sold at a shop in Old Bond Street for 1 schilling a piece.  This price made them a luxury, novelty item, thus they were in large part unavailable to the working class.

The card reads: "A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You." It also states that is was "Published at Summerly's Home Treasury Office, 12 Old Bond Street, London
Although charitable acts of feeding and clothing the poor were depicted on either side, the card drew some criticism because of the center scene depicting three generations of a merry family having a party, and raising a toast (of wine) to the recipient of the card.   This was considered "fostering the moral corruption of children".  With most people, however, the idea was a great success and the Christmas card quickly became very popular.

    One of the original cards holds the record as the most expensive Christmas card ever sold.   It brought £22,250 (that's about $34,000)  in 2001 at the UK auction house of Henry Aldridge to an anonymous bidder.

Another of the cards was sold in December 2005 for £8,500 to
Jakki Brown, co-owner of Progressive Greetings magazine and general secretary of the Greeting Card Association.  This card originally was sent to a Miss Mary Tripsack, a close friend of poetess Elizabeth Moulton-Barrett, wife of poet Robert Browning

Although 1,000 cards were printed, it is believed that about 10 remain in existence.
J C Horsley, who designed the first Christmas card was also the artist whose scenes are depicted on one of my favorite transferware patterns, Byron by Spode. 
Below is a picture of an antique engraving of one of the Byron scenes, Pet of the Common and the transferware charger decorated with the same scene beneath that.

 I have two  antique engraving prints by JC Horsley.  One is from The Illustrated London News, dated June 1, 1850 entitled "Hospitality" at The Mote, Ightham, Kent.

and the other is an illustration for Miltons poem Il Penseroso

I'm joining these parties:

Vintage Thingy Thursday
Pink Saturday


  1. great history lesson! I was on the edge of my seat as I thought that you were going to say that YOU were in possession of one of these cards! Now I want to know where these 10 existing are and if it's possible that I'll run across one somewhere in the world?!

  2. I so enjoyed this rich and festive history. What a treat to learn J C Horsley's art was also used on transfer ware. Your plate is so lovely, and the donkey in the original engraving is delightful. What an incredible price his Christmas card is valued at. Thanks!

  3. Thank you for this history lesson, I love learning about beginings, so interesting...hugs...cleo

  4. nancy, they are so very beautiful. And the plate, to die for gorgeous. xo Lidy

  5. So interesting to learn about the Christmas card! I just ordered mine today!

  6. Nancy, Thank you for the history lesson! I learned something today about the origin of the Christmas card. YOu made my day and I enjoy reading all your blogs. I am recently new to the blog world and to your blog so I look foward to your posts. You have a beautiful store and I, too, am a lover of dishes!

  7. Nancy, Thanks for sharing the history of the first Christmas card. I wonder where the other eight cards are now? Wouldn't I love to find one of these in my junkin adventures.
    Happy Holidays,

  8. Thanks for sharing the information about the first Christmas card - Nice post. I had read about the first Christmas cards before, but had forgotten about the story.
    Thanks for sharing.

  9. Hi, I'm hopping over from Nifty Thrifty Tuesdays, and I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this history, and seeing the old illustrations.

  10. Your "things" are beautiful and filled with such history and interest. Thank you for sharing them with Seasonal Sundays.

    - The Tablescaper

  11. Interesting post. You have more information on the first card than I have seen previously and I didn't know anything about the artist.

  12. Thanks for the history lesson, Nancy. I love learning the specifics of things like these. The transfer plate is gorgeous.

    Liz @ the Brambleberry Cottage


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