Tag Archives: London Metropolitan Archives

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)

New Director for the BPMA

Dr Adrian Steel

Dr Adrian Steel

Dr Adrian Steel has been appointed as the new Director of The British Postal Museum & Archive with immediate effect. The Director will be responsible for the leadership and the strategic development and direction of the BPMA.

Brian Goodey, chairman of the Trustees of the BPMA said today “We are delighted that Adrian has taken on the role of Director. The BPMA is entering a challenging period that includes its planned move to Swindon and Adrian has very successfully led that project from the beginning.”

Dr Steel commented: “I’m delighted to be taking up the challenge of leading the BPMA in its next stage of development, building on the foundations of Tony Conder. With interest in the postal service and its heritage currently greater than ever, the next stage of our new centre’s development and fundraising to plan for, and the 2010 Festival of Stamps set to inspire the expert and the general public alike, I have plenty to do, and plenty to look forward to.”

Adrian has been with the BPMA, and its predecessor Royal Mail Heritage, since 2003. He has been Catalogue Manager, covered the post of Head of Archives and Records Management during maternity leave, and has led the BPMA’s project to create a new centre for its museum and archive collections since 2006. Following the retirement of Tony Conder in April 2009, he has been acting Chief Executive Officer.

Prior to joining BPMA, Adrian worked at the London Metropolitan Archives, Reuters Archive and the Wellcome Trust, where he was based in a project working with the archive of the Wellcome Foundation pharmaceutical firm. Adrian has a PhD in history from the University of London, where he studied party politics in the Greater London area in the 1920s. He has an MA in Archives and Records Management from University College London  and has been a Registered Member of the Society of Archivists (RMSA) since 2001.