We email, Tweet, Facebook, and of course, we text.
But when was the last time you a sat down and wrote to someone? It’s not that we don’t have the opportunity. Most everyone has family out of town or a friend in a hospital or a nursing home who would love to receive a letter. Yet, we don’t seem to take the time for this most basic form of correspondence, with one exception. We will write a note on a Christmas card. How appropriate that is, considering that the first Christmas card was a form of stationery.
It is believed that the first official “Christmas card” was the joint effort of two Englishmen, artist John Horsley and postal worker Henry Cole. Their three-paneled card featured a center panel depicting three generations of a family raising their glasses in a holiday toast and two side panels depicting scenes of families giving food and clothing to the poor. Apparently the idea of a family drinking together proved a little too controversial for Victorian moralists and was it discontinued for the second printing. Still, the idea met with moderate success selling 2,050 cards during the Christmas season of 1843.
The custom of sending Christmas cards was well established in England by 1860. But it would not make its way across the pond until 1874 when the firm of Prang and Mayer started producing cards for export to America. Under the direction of Louis Prang, the first card exported to the US was a simple die cut flower with the words Merry Christmas.
Over the next few years, the cards from Prang and Mayer would become more elaborate with detailed lithography, elaborate shapes and beautiful script, and by 1881 they were printing more than 5 million cards for export to America each Christmas season. They ceased export to America by 1890 as cheaper made German cards became available. Today, the highly detailed lithography and silk trim on these early Prang and Mayer cards make them a favorite with collectors.