What is believed to be one of the first
mass-produced Christmas cards -- dating back more than 160
years -- can be found among the extensive special
collections of Bridwell Library at Southern Methodist
University's Perkins School of Theology.
lithographed card caused a controversy in some quarters of
Victorian English society when it was published in 1843
because it prominently features a child taking a sip from
a glass of wine.
Approximately 1,000 copies of the card were printed but
only 10 have survived to modern times. Bridwell Library
acquired its copy in 1982. The card was designed for Henry
Cole by his friend, the English painter John Calcott
Horsley (1808-1882). Cole wanted a ready-to-mail greeting
card because he was too busy to engage in the traditional
English custom of writing notes with Christmas and New
Year's greetings to friends and family.
The card pre-dated color printing so it was
hand-colored. The card is divided into three panels with
the center panel depicting a family drinking wine at a
celebration and the flanking panels illustrating
charitable acts of feeding and clothing the poor. The
greeting reads: "A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to
Cole, who also wrote and published Christmas books,
printed more cards than he needed so he sold the extra
cards for one shilling each. Bridwell Library's card was
signed by Cole and addressed to the engraver of the card,
John Thompson (1785-1866).
Widespread commercial printing of Christmas cards began
in the 1860s, when a new process of color printing lowered
the manufacturing cost and the price. Consequently, the
custom of sending printed Christmas greetings spread
throughout England. The first American Christmas card
dates from about 1850 and resembles Horsley's design.
(Click card for high-resolution scan.)
John Calcott Horsley. [Christmas Card].
"A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You."
82 x 130 mm. [London: J. C. Horsley. 1843]
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