LONDON – The first commercially produced Christmas card hit the market in 1843. But instead of being a success, it was the target of considerable verbal abuse!
A London merchant, Sir Henry Cole, came up with the idea to have a card printed so he wouldn’t have to write out Christmas greetings to friends, which was the custom at the time.
“It would save me a great deal of time, and I believe the recipients would be surprised and delighted,” Sir Henry told the artist he hired, John Horsley.
Within a week, Horsley came up with a design Sir Henry liked.
On the card, intricate vine-wrapped boughs formed side-by-side frames for three Christmas scenes. The center section depicted three generations of a family celebrating the holiday with glasses in hand.
Each card was individually hand-colored.
Sir Henry mailed about 300 cards to friends, and put another 300 up for sale at a shop he owned.
But followers of the anti-liquor movement were offended by the drinking scene!
They denounced the card as “deliberately conceived to foster and promote the consumption of alcohol during the holiday season.” Sir Henry sold a mere handful of the cards.
In 1848, a London entrepreneur named W.M. Egley tried marketing a second Christmas card similar in design to Sir Henry’s. But, it too failed to sell.
Then during the 1860s color reproduction of holiday paintings were reproduced on cards and caught on.
A post office grinch once tried to have the mailing of Christmas greetings banned by the U.S. government.
Long before printed cards became available, the exchange of hand-written good wishes at Christmastime was so popular in America that the post office had to hire extra workers each year to handle the increased volume of mail.
Around 1822 the superintendent of mail in Washington, DC, formally complained to Congree about the holiday workload. He asked for a law halting the exchange of Christmas greetings by mail.
Fortunately, his request was denied.
After Christmas cards began to gain favor in America they were printed with all sorts of scenes, including stagecoaches and even a nude woman. Perhaps the most unusual Christmas card ever – depicting a dead robin – became popular around 1880.
Scholars believe the morbid motif probably sprang from the medieval tradition of slaying a robin or wren during the holidays.
Whatever the source, Christmas cards with dead robins on them remained big sellers throughout the 1880s.