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The History of Christmas Cards

October 29, 2017

This is the time of year when we’re spending a lot of time talking, thinking and making Christmas cards and I thought it would be fun to share a bit about the history of Christmas cards.

The history of giving Christmas cards to friends and family is a tradition that goes back about 200 years. They were mostly sent by the elite and wealthy in the early to mid 1800’s. Most of the early greeting cards were hand delivered and many were quite expensive. But they soon gained mass popularity with the introduction of the world’s first postage stamp issued in 1840.  Then a few ambitious printers and manufacturers perfected printing methods and hired artists who designed both elaborate expensive cards as well as simple affordable ones by the 1850’s.

Talk about things WE take for granted!

The oldest known greeting card in existence is a Valentine made in the 1400’s and is in the British Museum. New Year’s cards can be dated back to this period as well, but the New Year greeting didn’t gain popularity until the late 1700’s. The Valentine and Christmas Card were the most popular cards.

Christmas cards were introduced and popularized by John Calcott Horsley, the artist of what is known as the world’s first Christmas Card and Louis Prang, known as the Father of the American Christmas Card.

The first Christmas card:

history of Christmas cards

The First Christmas Card

John Calcott Horsley was commissioned by Sir Henry Cole, who in London in 1843, was too busy to write to his friends as usual over the festive season.  Printed in black and white and then colored by hand, 1,000 cards were produced for “Old King” Cole (<<that’s the part I found funny and interesting), with the leftovers sold off by the printer.

The design showed a happy family raising a festive glass as a toast to the recipient. Sadly, un-festive critics condemned the design – for promoting drunkenness.

But, a few years later, Boston-based printer Louis Prang (originally from what is now Poland) introduced the Christmas card to the American public.

History of Christmas Cards

This is one of Prang’s early Christmas cards, printed using his newly invented chromolithographic color processing.


Before Prang’s invention of chromolithographic color processing, cards were lithographed but in basic black and were then colored in.

After some years had passed, in 1871, the backlash of real-life Scrooges began with the first newspaper article asserting that the deluge of cards was delaying “legitimate correspondence”.

Hmmmm, does that sound somewhat like those who are lamenting nowadays, that text messaging and FaceBook are taking away from the personal touch of greeting cards and snail mail ?!!!

Now we’re making our statements by hand stamping our Christmas/Holiday cards and using various materials to make them pop in addition to coloring them by different means:  markers, aqua painters, blender pens or the new Stampin’ Blends which will be available on November 1st.

We’ll be a part of the next phase of the history of Christmas cards!












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