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The first Christmas card designed in 1843 // the history of christmas cards // click to read more

As a designer, Christmas cards are maybe my most favorite holiday tradition. I love sending and receiving cards- in fact I run to my mailbox everyday in December hoping for a piece of fun, festive mail!

But I got to thinking: when did the tradition of sending Christmas cards even begin? Turns out we have cheap postage and a man with too many friends to thank for the invention of the Christmas card.

The first Christmas Card (wikimedia commons)

The Christmas Card: born out of sheer laziness

In 1843, Sir Henry Cole had a lot of friends and not enough time to write them all back from their holiday letters and well wishes. Back in the day, not returning letters was rude! (Kind of like ignoring DM’s from your besties) He needed a way to respond to all the letters that wasn’t so time consuming. So, he commissioned an artist friend by the name of J.C. Horsley to design a greeting that he could send to many people at once. The cards were so popular that other Victorian elite members began sending them the next year- and just like that a new tradition was born.

Greeting cards came to America by an American artist and print maker named Louis Prang.

Holiday Cards used to be collector’s items

Due in large part to the popularity of these cards, many manufacture’s held contests to get the best designs. And people loved it! They became collector’s items and newspapers even reviewed them like we review movies today!

Early designs often had nothing to do with Christmas

I mean, just look at these gems! A lot of the popular designs featured florals, and illustrations- but most of them had nothing to do with Christmas… at all.

Early greeting card design by Louis Prang.  Photo courtesy of wikicommons.
Louis Prang Holiday Card (wikimedia commons)
An Early London Greeting Card (wikimedia commons)

Salvador Dali and Norman Rockwell designed Christmas cards for Hallmark

In the Mid-century, Christmas cards were all the rage. So to stand out, Hallmark commissioned original artwork from Norman Rockwell, Salvador Dali and Grandma Moses. The Rockwell cards are still reprinted every few years!

Salvador Dali “Nativity” for Hallmark (Hallmark Archives)
Norman Rockwell for Hallmark (Hallmark Archives)
Grandma Moses for Hallmark (Photo from Vintage Collector on Etsy)

Millennials are driving greeting card purchases

It seems counter-intuitive but Millennials LOVE paper greeting cards. According to the Greeting Card Association, over 1.6 billion holiday cards are sold every year, with Millennials making up the largest share of buyers. Sites like Shutterfly and Minted are the Millennial Mecca for Christmas cards because they allow customers to send customized and highly personal greetings, using their own images, and infusing their own unique voice. For the Instagram generation, the modern Christmas card allows their digital life to exist in a keepsake IRL for friends and family, and really for themselves.

Christmas Card designed by Yours Truly

What is your favorite Christmas card? Do you love this tradition as much as I do?

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Hi I’m Char!  A Freelance Illustrator from Atlanta, Georgia who is on a mission to make the world happy one art print at a time!  Have a project? Want to chat about life, momming and coffee?  Let’s get social!
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