The History of the Christmas Card

A talk I am giving at London Metropolitan Archives on December 1st on ‘The History of the Christmas Card’ gives me an excellent opportunity to highlight our most festively appropriate museum collection.

Dating from 1843 up to the present day, our Christmas card collection incorporates a large number of Victorian and Edwardian cards, as well as wartime, National Savings, and General Post Office departmental cards. We also have an original copy of the earliest known surviving British Christmas card, and the first believed to have been sold commercially, which is that commissioned in 1843 by Henry Cole, the first Director of what is now the Victoria and Albert Museum. I will provide more details about the origins of Christmas card-giving, and other contenders for the first card, in my talk.

Winifred M. Ackroyd Christmas card, c.1920 (OB1994.298/3)

Winifred M. Ackroyd Christmas card, c.1920 (OB1994.298/3)

Universal Postal Union Christmas card, 1889-1890 (Acc. No. 0353)

Universal Postal Union Christmas card, 1889-1890 (Acc. No. 0353)

Cards were produced for all tastes and none, and few in the collection display the Christian themes we often see on cards today. Instead, traditional pagan imagery was a popular feature, and ivy, holly, and robins feature on many nineteenth and early twentieth century cards.

St Nicholas Christmas card, 1891-1892 (E1502.20)

St Nicholas Christmas card, 1891-1892 (E1502.20)

Victorian and Edwardian cards were often exchanged between lovers, who covertly conveyed their feelings through the language of flowers to deceive the prying eyes of their elders.

Embossed Christmas card, c.1880 (OB1995.27/5/02)

Embossed Christmas card, c.1880 (OB1995.27/5/02)

The Christmas card became a fashionable and affordable luxury indulged in by those who could afford to spend as little as a halfpenny or as much as five guineas. Aware of the charm of novelty cards, some manufacturers produced designs to appeal particularly to feminine fancies, and we have some very pretty, and well-preserved, examples.

Embossed fan-shaped Christmas card, c. 1880 (OB1995.27/1)

Embossed fan-shaped Christmas card, c. 1880 (OB1995.27/1)

If we are to judge by the quality of the cards alone, their recipients must have been held in high esteem by the senders. Embroidery, paper-lace, gilding and silk adorn several cards, and one wonders which lucky lady was on the receiving end of a Rimmel perfumed card!

Perfume sachet Christmas card with paper-lace and silk, c.1860-1880 (OB1995.27/8/01)

Perfume sachet Christmas card with paper-lace and silk, c.1860-1880 (OB1995.27/8/01)

The seminar, organised by the group ‘Archives for London’, will provide a detailed history of the custom of giving Christmas cards, and their design, production and sale. For more details, and to book a place, please email Jeff Gerhardt at Jeff.Gerhardt@cityoflondon.gov.uk, or telephone 020 7332 3816.

Items from the BPMA’s Christmas card collection can be viewed by appointment. Please contact info@postalheritage.org.uk for details.

- Anna Flood, Archivist (Cataloguing)

One response to “The History of the Christmas Card

  1. Pingback: Kerstmiss kaarten: to send or not to send? « Expatriating Julia

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