Map Bored? The origin of Christmas cards
The practice of exchanging cards at Christmas was invented by Englishman Sir Henry Cole in 1843. Cole wanted to make his friends aware of the need to help the poor and needy during the festive period, so he commissioned the artist John Calcott Horsley (now recognized as the designer and artist of the first ever Christmas card) to draw a card showing the feeding and clothing of the poor.
However, the final design focused on a colorful group of wealthy revelers enjoying a glass of wine and tucking into Christmas food. Around the periphery of the map, illustrated in one shade of gray, were images of the poor.
Despite the good intentions of the card, it was criticized for showing youths sipping wine, as it was believed to “encourage the moral corruption of children”. Now a slogan often used read: “Merry Christmas and a happy New Year to you.” Sir Henry sent these cards to all his friends and relatives that year and thus started a custom that continues to this day. Only 1,000 of these cards were printed, which sold for a shilling each (5p) in 1843 and are now highly sought after collectors’ items, with one selling for £8,469 at a UK auction in 2005.
As Christmas has come and gone, new card designs have emerged; intricate cards with silk and satin fringes, cards folded like fans or cut into the shapes of birds and candles, but strangely, these early cards rarely included winter scenes.
The custom of Christmas cards soon became popular on the American side of the Atlantic, but for more than 30 years Americans had to import their cards from England. Then, in 1875, a German immigrant named Louis Pranff opened a lithograph shop and published the first Christmas card in the United States. His initial designs were unrelated to Christmas and included simple artwork of common flowers and birds. However, they were a huge success and by 1881 Prang had produced more than five million Christmas cards.
Since then, Christmas cards have become a universal Christmas custom with millions exchanged between friends and family each year around the world. Charity Christmas Cards are now an important fundraising tool for many charities and the champion of children’s rights – Unicef - is credited with inventing the concept.
Although technology has brought us new forms of communication, such as email and electronic cards, the classic Christmas card remains as popular as ever and is unlikely to disappear anytime soon.
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