The History of the Christmas Card
The Christmas card, as we know it, originated in England in the year 1843. An artist named John Calcott Horsley was commissioned by Sir Henry Cole, a wealthy and successful London businessman, to create a card that could be sent out to his friends and clients to wish them a merry Christmas.
Sir Henry Cole was very well known at the time, for a number of reasons. He had a helping hand in helping to modernize the British postal system. He played a prominent role in the creation of the Royal Albert Hall, and acted as the construction manager on this massive project. He also arranged for the Great Exhibition of 1851, and he oversaw the inauguration of the Victoria and Albert Museum.
One of Sir Henry Cole’s greatest aspirations in life was to beautify the world around him. He owned and operated a wonderful art shop on Bond Street, which specialized in decorative objects for the home. His shop was hugely popular with the British upper class, and he earned a tidy sum from his business.
The Christmas card he commissioned was fashioned in the form of a triptych, which is a three-paneled design that allows for the two outer panels to be folded in towards the middle one. Each of the two side panels depicted a good deed. The first showed an image of people clothing the poor, and the other side panel showed an image of people feeding the hungry. The center piece had an image of a well-to-do family making a toast and surrounded by an enormous feast.
The inscription on the inside of the card read "A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you." Of the one thousand cards printed for Sir Henry Cole, only twelve exist today in private collections. The printed card became highly fashionable in England during the years that followed. They also became very popular in Germany. It took quite a long time for the idea to catch on in America, then popularized by a German expatriate named Louis Prang in 1875. Today, more than 2 billion Christmas cards are exchanged each year. Merry Christmas, all!