Victorian Christmas Cards


The very first Christmas card was printed in December 1843, at the request of Sir Henry Cole, who was also the instigator of the Great Exhibition of 1851 and founder and first director of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Indeed, he was responsible for the whole idea of sending Christmas cards through the post when he decided to surprise his friends with a novel and colorful card at Christmas time instead of the usual Christmas letter. It was designed as a way to offer seasonal greetings without having to write out hundreds of personal messages.
The artist J.C.Horsley was commissioned to produce the card which is now among the most sought after by collectors. The card illustrated a wealthy family enjoying a Christmas feast as they all toast the festive season by sipping wine and it was all set within a woody, rustic border hung with ivy, grapes and vine leaves (holly did not appear on Christmas cards until 1848).
The custom of sending holiday greeting soon caught on tremendously in the nineteenth century since people had become more mobile. Victoria herself sent thousands of cards at Christmas.
By the middle years of the Victorian Era, cards were varied in size, shape and material.  Many were designed (or improved) by the sender as was the case in 1891 when Maud Tomlinson, soon to be married and Maud Berkeley, "spent all afternoon cutting an old lace frock into bits, with which to adorn Christmas cards." Designs ranged from charming little vignettes by artists such as Kate Greenaway to the lithographs of the Arts and Crafts movement and on to cards both crudely drawn and crude in content that could be purchased for as little as a half-penny. Sentiments on the cards included simple seasons greetings, religious thoughts, unabashedly sentimental verse, and bad jokes seemingly totally unrelated to the season.
Many cards were extremely elaborate with gilded, embossed, shaped, pop-up and pierced forms. Victorian cards sported fancy silk fringe, lace, satin, sachets, tinsel, feathers, fold-outs, pop-outs, and pull tabs for animation. Like Victorian valentines, Christmas cards featured cherubs, flowers, animals, and images of spring. Biblical figures were also common images on holiday cards. Small children were sentimentalized on Victorian Christmas cards, with children of the poor and orphans as well, being extensively portrayed. Indeed, a large number of such cards were published at the time; it was the era of sailor suits and pretty bonnets in particular. Children were always portrayed as pretty, with round faces, wide eyes, and red Cupid’s-bow lips. Novelty cards were a big hit in Victorian times, especially those that played a trick or worked mechanically. Very few of these early Victorian Christmas cards illustrate the religious meaning of the festival, and they rarely show landscapes blanketed in snow or warmly clad skaters on ponds or even reindeers pulling Father Christmas’s sleigh over the countryside which are all so common today on our cards.
The Victorians illustrated nature in all its form on their cards since they were passionately fond of the countryside, and so they gloried in colorful cards which depicted delightful pictures of spring and summer in particular. Very early Christmas cards hence have attractive birds on them together with their nests and eggs. Flowers of the countryside were also immensely popular as illustrations, and flying butterflies amongst stalks of wheat and even insects landing on ripening blackberries were included by the early artists of Christmas cards. All these images were a reminder to everyone that bleak Winter would soon give way to sunny days once again since nature was but resting at Christmas time.
Louis Prang, who came to the United States from Germany in 1850, was the man who brought the American Christmas card into its own. In 1874, Prang decided to print a selection of Christmas cards for export to England. The response was so positive that the following year he printed enough to sell in the home market as well. The early cards from L.Prang & Co. were small, usually measuring two and half by four inches, and they were printed on one side only. Many had flower motifs; some of the most striking ones had brightly colored bouquets or flowering plants on a black background.
In 1880, Louis Prang began a yearly design competition that offered $1,000 for first prize. His competition attracted some of the most talented artists. As the artists began to offer striking original designs, Prang enlarged his cards, often to seven by ten inches. One side was devoted to the design itself, and the other side carried the sentiment and a short biography of the artist. Always excellent in color quality and finish, Prang’s cards cost up to a dollar each.


Each Christmas as it passes

Some change to us doth bring

Yet to our friends the closer,

As Time creeps on, we cling.

Victorian Christmas Card Greeting

The red card is Copyright 1878 by L. Prang & Co. Boston U.SA.
The telephone card is Copyright 1877 by L. Prang and Co.

Both of these cards are Copyrighted 1878 by L. Prang & Co. Boston

The card to the right was the Fourth Prize Card for 1882.


13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. JoAnn
    Dec 08, 2008 @ 16:58:31

    These cards are absolutely beautiful. I can\’t decide which of these is my favorite. Thanks so much for sharing, Rhonda. Have a wonderful evening.


  2. MarieDeGe
    Dec 08, 2008 @ 17:00:22

    Great blog subject!! I just love the drawings from the Victorian Era.


  3. Carol
    Dec 08, 2008 @ 17:07:15

    These are so beautiful Rhonda. I really like the one of the little girl in the blue coat. Thanks for letting us see these, Hugs


  4. Lizzie-Beth4Him
    Dec 08, 2008 @ 17:18:58

    How interesting about the Victorian card origins. I enjoyed learning about Prang too. Each and every card is so beautiful. I can see why you enjoy collecting them.


  5. Sue
    Dec 08, 2008 @ 17:52:10

    They so beautifulTake careSue


  6. Beth
    Dec 08, 2008 @ 17:58:08

    All very beautiful…I enjoyed the post. Thank you!


  7. Jayne
    Dec 08, 2008 @ 18:26:38

    Fabulous blog Rhonda, really enjoyed it. xx


  8. Angel eyes
    Dec 08, 2008 @ 19:07:29

    such wonderful treasures angel eyes


  9. Windows Live
    Dec 08, 2008 @ 19:31:10

    You are a book of knowledge my dear, thank you for sharing these, the past always seems to out do the present.Have a great week my friend, Hugs always, Bonne


  10. Adrian
    Dec 08, 2008 @ 20:20:37

    Great info! :)Adrian


  11. Rambling
    Dec 09, 2008 @ 07:15:30

    I love those cards. I remember when my Dad found a bunch in the walls of our home when he was remodling.


  12. Rusty's
    Dec 09, 2008 @ 08:01:29

    I love the card from the Victorian era, each one is so beautiful. I especially like the one with the little girl hanging the holly. A lovely post my dear. Take care and God bless……………Rusty ((HUGS))


  13. Ray
    Dec 09, 2008 @ 14:55:13

    That\’s really interesting Rhonda, I have an early Christmas card from South Africa somewhere, I must try to dig it out now. Just a simple white card saying "We are come from South Africa to wish you a Merry Christmas". Very good reading thank you.Hugs, Ray


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