If you’re looking for an excuse – or need a reminder – to start sending your Christmas post, then December 9th is as good a day as any.
That’s because December 9th is Christmas Card Day, which honours Sir Henry Cole (1818 – 1874), an Englishman who created the first commercial Christmas card in 1843.
Cole was born in Bath, and began his career at the age of 15 at the Record Commission, a precursor to Britain’s Public Record Office.
His knowledge of the postal system came about when he worked as an assistant to social reformer Rowland Hill, the man credited with originating the basic concepts of the modern postal service.
In fact some historians even credit Cole with the invention of the world’s first postage stamp, called the Penny Black, a few years before his invention of the Christmas card.
Cole is said to have come up with the idea of with his friend John Horsley, who was an artist. The two designed the first card and sold them for 1 shilling each, equivalent to about 8 cent today.
The card had three panels: the outer two showing people looking after the poor, with the centre panel showing a family having a large Christmas dinner. However, some people didn’t like the card because it showed a child being given a glass of wine!
Only about 1000 were originally printed and sold, but as printing methods improved, the cards became much more popular and were produced in large numbers from about 1860.
These first cards usually had pictures of the Nativity scene on them, but in late Victorian times, robins and snow-scenes became popular.
At the time, postmen were even nicknamed ‘Robin Postmen’ because of the red uniforms they wore. Snow-scenes were popular because they reminded people of the very bad winter that happened in the UK in 1836.
While Christmas Cards appeared in the U.S. in the late 1840s, they were extremely expensive and most people couldn’t afford them. Then in 1875, Louis Prang, a printer who was originally from German but who had also worked on early cards in the UK, began mass-producing more affordable cards.
In 1915, John C. Hall and two of his brothers created Hallmark Cards, who are still one of the biggest card makers today.
In the 1910s and 1920s, home made cards became popular. They were often unusual shapes and had things such as foil and ribbon on them. These were usually too delicate to send through the post and were given by hand.
Nowadays, Christmas cards are sent by all and charities can make money from stickers used to seal the card envelopes. This custom started in Denmark in the early 1900s, when a postal worker thought it would be a good way for charities to raise money.
Over four million were sold in the first year! Soon Sweden and Norway adopted the custom and then it spread all over Europe and to America.
Check out the infographic below for more on the facts and figures behind Christmas cards!