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A Brief History – Christmas Cards


As soon as the pumpkins and sparklers leave the shop windows, the Christmas cards, tinsel and “ideal gift” offers come out.  Many of the more traditional cards depict beautiful, chocolate box cottages, with window shutters and a crisp white sprinkling of snow. Wreaths and ribbons abound to give the idyllic impression of what Christmas should look like.

Christmas cards are actually a British invention.  A man called Sir Henry Cole asked a local illustrator, John Collcott Horsely to design and print special picture cards, in 1843, to wish his friends family and professional associates a merry Christmas.  The cards were printed lithographically and then hand-coloured by the professional artists.

Sir Henry’s charming gesture may sound lovely, however he was a very shrewd man. Once he saw the finished card, he ordered another 1,000 to be printed, selling them under the pseudonym Felix Summerly for a shilling each; which is just over £25 a card in today’s money.

As with modern cards, the first ever Christmas cards, tended to be more sentimental, with a family focus, or humorous in nature rather than religious.

By the 1870s advances in lithographic printing meant that the cards did not need to be hand finished to the same extent, so were cheaper to buy, and their popularity increased.  In 1874 a British printing company, Prang and Mayer, began exporting Christmas cards to America, where the idea became an overnight sensation…. And the rest, as you say, is history!

Fun Christmas Card Facts:

  • Snow lying on the ground on Christmas Day – as we would expect from typical Christmas card scene – is much rarer that you may think. There has only been a widespread covering of snow (where more than 40% of weather stations in the UK reported snow on the ground at 9am) four times in the last 51 years, the last time being in 2010.
  • The British Royal Family produced the first ever “official Christmas cards”, in the 1840s, picturing happy family scenes – a tradition which still continues to this day.
  • Victorian Postmen had red uniforms and were known as “Robins” who even delivered post on Christmas morning.
  • The first Christmas stamp was released in Canada in 1898.
  • The first Charity cards were produced by Unicef in 1949.
  • The longest delivery time for a Christmas Card was 71 years. A German soldier posted a card home while Stationed in Jersey in 1941, but the card did not arrive until 2012.
  • Since the advent of e-cards, the British only send an average of 28 personal Christmas Cards per year, in the 1970s some figures estimated that the average person was sending 60-80 cards a year.
  • British Charities are estimated to have received approximately £50m per year as a result of their Christmas cards and calendars in 2013.
  • One of Sir Henry’s first Christmas cards, sent to his Grandmother was recently sold at auction for £22,500.

So on that festive note, when you are looking through your Christmas cards this year and you come across a pretty, interesting or humorous one with plantation shutters on, we’d love to see it.

With season greetings from the team at Purely Shutters.


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