Christmas Cards: A Brief History

Though the tradition of Christmas cards appears to be disappearing more and more with the advent of digital communication, they will always be a point of nostalgia for many of us. But do you know where the humble Christmas card began? In this week’s article, we’ll be journeying back in time to explore the origins of this festive tradition.


Early beginnings

Sir Henry Cole is often nominated as the inventor of the Christmas card tradition. In the UK in 1843, the civil servant created the first ‘public record office’ (now known as the Post Office). He began to wonder how this office could be used more by regular citizens, so he dreamt up Christmas cards along with his artist friend John Horsley. The very first Christmas cards featured three panels; in the centre panel, a family was depicted having Christmas dinner together, while the outer panels showed acts of charity. These cards are now very rare, as just less than 1000 were created.

Let’s jump forward in time…

From about 1860, Christmas cards became much more popular. This was in large part due to improvements in printing technology. As prices dropped, more and more people were able to purchase and send cards to loved ones. Among these Christmas cards, the most common illustration was that of the Nativity scene. Other popular visual themes were snow and red robins.

America plays its part

In the 1840s, Christmas cards were found in America for the first time. They were incredibly expensive, and as a result, they were not overly popular. However, in 1875, a printer named Louis Prang began to mass produce cards so that more people would be able to take part in the tradition. In 1891, the very first personalised card was sent- Annie Oakley featured a photo of herself on the front of the card. Flashing forward, John C Hall and his brothers invented Hallmark Cards in 1915. This incredibly famous card making company are still around today, and is a testament to the quality and appeal of their cards. Today, 1.5 billion Christmas cards are sent annually in America.

When around 45% of posted cards are those of the Christmas variety, you know it’s something special. What about you- will you be sending Christmas cards this year?

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