The Christmas card custom

The first Christmas card was designed and sold in 1843. It was the brainchild of Sir Henry Cole, who had helped set up the government department that was later called the Post Office. Sir Henry had helped to introduce the Penny Post in 1840, taking advantage of the railways to move post quickly and cheaply.

And people did. The story goes that Sir Henry had lots of friends who wrote to him at Christmas. It was only polite to reply, but Sir Henry was a busy man. He came up with the idea of a card with Christmas greetings, and a space at the top to write people’s names.

John Horsley, a friend of Sir Henry’s designed the card with three panels: the outer two showing charitable works and the inner one a family Christmas dinner.

Over time, Sir Henry’s idea caught on, helped as printing methods and mass production brought printing prices down. When the cost of sending dropped to half a penny in the 1870s, Christmas cards took off, and spread around the world.

Annie Oakley sent the first known personalised card. She was in Scotland in 1891, and sent a Christmas card back to family and friends in the United States with her own photo on it.

Do you send Christmas cards? Or a Christmas newsletter? By post or electronically? Or do you wish to do so, and just not have enough time?


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