The History of Christmas Cards

November 30, 2016

It is commonly agreed that the first Christmas card was sent by Sir Henry Cole in 1843. Sir Henry Cole was a civil servant helping to set-up the Post Office, where he worked. He wanted to encourage the fledging Post Office as to how it could make it’s services more readily available and used more by ordinary people. The penny postal service had started in 1840. The first card depicted poor people being cared for and a large family enjoying a traditional Christmas meal, and controversially showing a child drinking wine. For the time it was very expensive and so only the rich could afford to buy it and send it. However with the advent of the railways postal services became ever more popular and therefore cheaper and the tradition of sending out Christmas cards was started as postal charges dropped. Plus with new printing methods making the cards cheaper to produce and easier to produce in larger quantities helped fuel the desire to send Printed Christmas cards to as many friends and family as possible. 

By the 1900’s the traditional of sending Christmas cards had extended across Europe and became especially popular in Germany. The very fist Christmas cards didn’t depict religious themes or what we would consider traditional Christmas imagery of trees, snow, robins etc. But they soon started to depict nativity scenes and other religious scenes. A printer who had been involved with the first Christmas Cards, Louis Prang in Germany and England, started to mass produce Christmas cards in 1875, and so brought the cost of cards down so they became more readily available. Then in 1915 two brothers started the company Hallmark Cards which is still one of the biggest card companies in the world. They also developed the personalised Christmas card which became very popular during the World Wars so families could send soldiers Christmas cards.

Christmas Card designs

Initially Christmas cards didn’t look anything like our Christmas cards but they soon started to show religious imagery and then during the late Victorian times more common Christmas themes such as Robins, Snow, Christmas trees, holly, baubles etc. started to be used. In the 1910’s-1920’s homemade cards started to become fashionable. They were often shaped, with foil and ribbons, but were often too delicate to post.


Charity Christmas Cards

As it is the season of goodwill, cards supporting charities was a good fit and was picked up in Denmark at the turn of the 1900’s. But rather than the card being a charity card the seal for the envelope was the charity element. It became so popular that it soon spread across Europe. The first charity Christmas card was reportedly hand drawn by a 7 year old girl in 1949. Here at the Letter Press of Cirencester we support a number of charities but our preferred charity if the Xavier Project and to date we have raised over £6,000.

Official Christmas Cards

Often people in the public eye produce personalised Christmas cards and they often make their way into the press. The Royal family always send our a large amount of personalized Christmas cards, as do politicians from all countries, especially the UK PM and US president. It’s a way of wishing season’s Greetings to a nation.

Printing Personalised Christmas Cards

With so many other ways to send Christmas wishes such as text, e-cards, direct messages the world of Christmas cards is reducing. So in contrast to this personalised printed Christmas cards using a more traditional printing methods such as Letterpress and raised print.


Commercial Christmas Cards

Companies often get corporate Christmas cards printed, generally personalised on the inside and sometimes also the front. They are used to send out to current and potential customers to than them for the year and also to develop good working relations in the coming year. Still often hand signed to give a personal touch.


Recycling Christmas Cards

These days with so many cards being sent it is essential that cards can be recycled and they can in the majority of larger supermarkets and also via refuse collections. But this isn’t a new element of Christmas Cards. At the turn of 19000 Christmas cards we used for crafts and scrapbooking in hospitals to give the patients, especially children something to do while ill. Plus printing your Christmas cards on ethically sourced paper and board is essential, just like us at The Letter Press of Cirencester, all out Christmas cards are printed on paper responsibly sourced.

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