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Requiem for Christmas cards?


Christmas card in the collection of the British Library

Was there something in the air? In 1843, the same year that Dickens published A Christmas Carol, a Brit invented the printed Christmas card. The first in the world, the card showed a happy family raising a festive glass, while side scenes showed the family clothing and feeding the poor.

The man who commissioned it was Sir Henry Cole, the founder of the Victoria & Albert Museum. The painter was John Calcott Horsely, who was known as "Clothes-Horsely" because he didn't care to paint women nude. Printed in black and white and then colored by hand, 1,000 cards were produced for "Old King" Cole.

The tradition took off during Christmas 1862, when printer Charles Goodall produced a simple card with the words "A Merry Christmas". Robins were added later, followed by holly, jolly pictures of St Nick, and rather lovely images of the Holy Family.

Over 150 years, card purchases gave a huge boost to charities.

Today, many doubt that Christmas cards will survive another social media generation.

To miss the frisson of Christmas cards sifting through the letter box and snowing on the floor!


The image is by Adrian Harvey. The card is sold to help maintain the fabric of The Hospital of St Cross and Almshouse of Noble Poverty, just south of Winchester.