We send millions of them every year by post, hand or digitally, but how many of us know where Christmas cards came from?
These cards give huge sentiment at the festive season, to family, friends, colleagues or customers, each with their special message. But do you know the origins? Well, eCard Shack has picked out some of the most interesting facts about Christmas cards.
So, whether you’re curious or want to gain some extra points on a quiz, these nine facts will open your eyes to how these cards came about. We’ll also discuss the 21st-century version of Christmas cards – ecards – and why you should choose them this year.
Read on to find out more about Christmas cards and what you can do this festive season…
The first recorded Christmas cards were sent in 1611 by a German physician, Michael Maier, to James I of England. However, the first commercial Christmas cards were sent 200 years later.
Civil servant, Sir Henry Cole, had the idea for a commercial card and commissioned his artist friend, John Horsley, to design it. Together, they are credited with the invention of the modern Christmas card in 1843. Around 1,000 were sold at a cost of a shilling each.
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The card itself had three panels. Horsley’s design depicts three generations of the Cole family raising a toast in the centre panel. Either side had a hand-coloured panel surrounded by a decorative trellis depicting acts of giving. The message was of celebration and charity.
Sir Henry Cole was a prominent civil servant, educator, inventor and later became the first director of the Victoria & Albert Museum.
Cole was instrumental in reforming the British postal network and helped to set up the Uniform ‘Penny Post’. The Penny Post encouraged all classes to send letters for the price of a penny and helped reform the Royal Mail.
Cole’s household was busy at Christmas with unanswered mail piling up, so a timesaving solution was needed – the Christmas card. Cole also developed the Royal College of Art and helped establish the Royal College of Music and Imperial College London.
Original Christmas Card Design
Early Christmas cards were influenced by Valentines and featured “paper lace” designs – embossed and pierced paper. They opened to reveal flowers and religious symbols and were prompted by new printing processes and techniques.
The cards produced in the Victorian period were considered tasteful but expensive. Cards were exchanged, displayed and collected in vast numbers. Like much of our festive traditions, the Victorians established the familiar iconography of Christmas.
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This period debuted many meaningful symbols such as winter scenes of robins, holly, evergreens, churches and snowy landscapes. This also brought about the depiction of decorating trees, Christmas dinner, and Christmas crackers – another Victorian invention.
Not a Popular Start
Christmas cards based on Cole’s design weren’t popular to begin with for a few reasons. One was that it was expensive. A shilling may be the equivalent of a few pennies now, but back then it was a day’s wage for many workers of the era.
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Additionally, the illustration he commissioned Horsley to create depicted what appears to be children drinking wine. By Victorian standards – or even modern standards – inebriated children were a no-go. It would take 20 years for cards to become truly popular.
Christmas Cards and the USA
Louis Prang, a German immigrant with a print shop near Boston, is credited with creating the first Christmas card in the United States. Starting in 1875, it was very different from Cole and Horsley’s design as it didn’t contain a Christmas image.
Prang’s card was a painting of a flower and simply read “Merry Christmas”. This was a more subtle approach that defined the first generation of American Christmas cards. It also made it easier for mass-producing cards, allowing more people to buy them.
The Card as We Know it
It wasn’t until the early 20th century that we started to see cards as we know them – with a fold down the middle and an envelope. The Hall Brothers – later Hallmark – created the folded card based on frustrations with the choices available at the time.
They discovered that people didn’t have enough room to write everything they wanted to say on a postcard-type message. The new “book” format – which remains the standard – was handy if you didn’t want to write an entire letter. They also introduced cards shelves that we know today as opposed to cards being kept in draws.
Use of Paper and Card
Conservation charity Woodland Trust has collected and recycled more than 600 million Christmas cards and planted over 140,000 trees. This is the equivalent, in carbon emissions, of taking more than 5,000 cars off the road.
Buying Christmas Cards
On average, the UK will buy up to 100 million single Christmas cards – these may be for parents, partners, close friends etc. That figure soars to another 900 million in packs or boxes of cards. Many of these may be bought from charities.
An estimated £50 million is raised for charities by selling their Christmas cards each year. The idea for raising money for charities with Christmas cards originated in Denmark. Furthermore, 45% of all cards sent are for Christmas but only 15% are bought by men.
Birth of e-Christmas Cards
While digital ecards have been around since 1996, the explosion of web and smartphone technology means that they are now more widely used and available in an array of different formats, from simple postcards to flash animation and video.
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The sending of paper – or analogue – cards has been in decline thanks to the rise of social media and ease of which people can contact each other. Facebook, Snapchat, Whatsapp, emails – they can all take the place of a traditional Christmas card.
What are the benefits of ecards?
- It’s easier and cheaper to send and you can reach a wider audience.
- It’s less work for people in the office who can be better employed doing something else.
- Holiday ecards for business are a greener option than their paper and card counterparts. That means your carbon footprint is lessened.
- They can be targeted for individuals and are more likely to be opened by the right person. Most business mail gets opened by PAs or mailing staff and is rarely seen by the person you meant it for. With a corporate ecard, it goes straight to their inbox.
- You can play around with the design and make it more personalised for your business. It also costs a lot less than having designers and printers work on a hard copy.
- Corporate Christmas ecards can also be sent out at a specific time. You can arrange your timing to have the most impact based on your customer demographic, even link it to an upcoming promotion. With hard copy Christmas cards, you are at the whim of the postal service.