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“So may the card I send thee
In some hereafter Christmas prove
A happy memory of me”
(Verse taken from the poem, “My Christmas Cards” by Miss [Helen Marion] Burnside)
The happy Christmas memories of Mary Pennington are housed at the Archives of Michigan. The Mary Pennington Collection includes examples of the Christmas postcard produced from c. 1907 to 1915.
On the reverse of the card shown above, we find a handwritten message to Mary Pennington. The message is dated “December 23, 1910,” and it reads as follows:
There is Santa Claus for you. Hope you will laugh at him. Hope you will all come and see us soon, and we wish you all a merry Christmas and a happy new year. – Aunt Annie”
(To read the original message, continue clicking on the above right-hand image.)
First Commercial Christmas Card
The first commercial Christmas card was produced in England in 1843. Sir Henry Cole commissioned John Callcott Horsley, a British artist and illustrator, to design the card (Click Cole-Horsley Card to view it.). Its subject is revelry tempered with charity. The center image shows three generations of a family sipping wine. The rustic border is adorned with ivy, grapes and vine leaves. On either side, Horsley drew scenes of food and clothing being given to the poor. Charity, however, appears to be secondary to the party. Some Victorians, arguing that the image encouraged drunkenness in children, found it immoral. This critique did not stop sales, however. Joseph Cundall published one thousand copies, and the image was sold for one shilling each at Felix Summerly’s Home Treasury Office at 12 Old Bond Street, London, England.
A Tradition Begins…and Grows
The Christmas greeting card was advanced by the ubiquitous calling card that Victorians left after visiting friends. In 1860, publisher Charles Goodall & Sons mass produced calling cards decorated with a twig of holly or flowers. The establishment of the postal stamp, the uniform penny post and the postcard (c.1840-1846) further pushed the Christmas card greetings industry into Victorian life. Cards were sold by book sellers, and in stationery, tobacconist, toy and drapery shops.
English printers and manufacturers perfected reproduction methods and hired artists who designed elaborate, expensive cards and simple, affordable ones. Early designers favored signs of spring (flowers, butterflies, ripening fruit, and sailboats) and scenes of fantasy (fairies, elves and pixies). The success of Clement Moore’s “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” which was written in 1822 and first published in 1823, propelled Santa Claus into Christmas greeting card iconography by c. 1860.
Helen Marion Burnside
Designers also looked to writers for short, holiday poems as greetings. Helen Marion Burnside (b. 1844) wrote approximately six thousand Christmas card verses between 1874 and 1900. Burnside was a favorite of Queen Victoria and became known as the “Poet Laureate of Christmas cards.” (Example of a Burnside card, http://tuckdb.org/postcards/1285)
Early American Christmas Cards (Link)
For a look at how the Christmas card came to the America, click Louis Prang, Father of the American Christmas Card
Buday, Gvorgy. The History of the Christmas Card. London: Rockliff, 1954.