Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Christmas Card

The Christmas season is upon us. Folks are rushing from store to store, or combing through Amazon’s gazillion pages, to find the perfect present at the lowest price. Cookies bake in the oven, turkeys and hams are bought in anticipation of a scrumptious meal, and somewhere in between attending parties and wrapping gifts, many people take the time to address and send Christmas cards to their loved ones and friends

Horsley's Christmas card
The Christmas card was first introduced in the UK in 1843 by Sir Henry Cole. Cole worked as a civil servant and wanted to find a way for the average person to use the Public Post Office. Up until this time, only rich folk could afford the price of postage. When the UK began using trains instead of horses and carriages to ship mail, the Penny Post was created, making it possible for the common person to afford the price of postage.

Having little time to keep up on his own correspondence, Cole hired his friend, John Horsley, to design a Christmas card he could send to family and friends in lieu of writing long missives. Horsley crafted a card with three panels. The outer panels depicted scenes of people caring for the poor. The middle panel featured a family enjoying Christmas dinner. One thousand cards were printed and sold for a schilling. When people realized these cards could be mailed in an unsealed envelope for half a penny, they became very popular in the UK.

Christmas cards were also introduced to the United States in the 1840’s. Since they were costly, most Americans couldn’t afford to buy them. R.H Pease is credited with crafting and distributing the first American made Christmas card in the United States. Pease owned a variety store in Albany, N.Y and his cards depicted scenes of families, reindeer, Santa, and Christmas presents and foods. 

One of Prang's Christmas cards
In 1875, Louis Prang began mass producing greeting cards in the United States. Originally from Germany and a printer, Prang arrived in the States in the 1850’s. He’d previously worked in the UK on their earlier cards. By 1870, Prang owned two-thirds of America’s steam presses and had perfected the colour printing process of chromolithography. Upon distributing his cards at an 1873 exposition, his agent’s wife suggested he add Christmas cards to his line. He did and the cards were an instant success with the American people, so much so Prang had difficulty keeping up with the demand for them. He later took up the English printers’ practice of offering prizes to artists with the best designs for his cards. Many of the winners crafted Biblical scenes, putting religious significance into the Christmas card, which had been lacking until that time.

Hallmark is the greeting card giant in today’s society.  John C. Hall and two of his brothers developed Hallmark Cards in 1915. It’s estimated that 1.6 – 1.9 billion Christmas cards are purchased in the United States each year. Though my list has dwindled through the years, I’m happy to say I’m one of those purchasers.            


Ginger Jones Simpson said...

Thanks for the history lesson. I learned something today. Sadly, I stopped sending cards sometime ago. FB has provided us with quick and less expensive ways to wish people Happy Birthday, Happy Holidays, etc. Technology has really affected our lives, and I believe the Post Office has suffered most with email and social media. Thank goodness a great deal of us shop on line or the UPS and other delivery services would feel the pinch, too. :)

I'd love to go back to the days when I sent cards and a Christmas letter summing up the year...unfortunately when you have an empty nest, you have nothing much to discuss. Mine were always funny, and people say they loved them. I hope they miss them as much as I do typing them. :)

Shanna Hatfield said...

I love sending and receiving Christmas cards. There is nothing like opening the mailbox and finding a card there. Thanks for a fun post on the history of Christmas cards!

Kathleen Rice Adams said...

Julie! It's good to "see" you. :-)

This is fascinating stuff. You must have done a TON of research to come up with all of this. Thanks for sharing the history. :-)

Julie Lence said...

Hi Kathleen: Actually, the research wasn't that bad. There was quite a bit of info and lots of photos of old cards on Google images.

Like everyone, I enjoy getting Christmas cards. It's the filling them out I have to make time for.

Merry Christmas Everyone!