Tuesday, December 11, 2018

DAY 42: Yes, Victoria, There Will Be Christmas Cards

Santa on a bicycle, excessively modern in 1890 - V&A
I turned to the V&A, or the Victoria and Albert Museum, for my background on Christmas cards--for the very reason: The first ever Christmas card was conceived and ordered by the founder of the V&A, Sir Henry Cole, in 1843. Cole was an accomplished design guru and advisor to Prince Albert who had too many correspondents to deal with during the holidays, so he had 1000 holiday cards drawn and printed, for mailing with seasonal greetings to his friends. The idea was save himself time with a pre-printed message. Brilliant, in a time before texting or tweets.

That first Christmas card, still in the massive card collection at the V&A, looks like an illustration for a Charles Dickens novel, and its message is a riff on the nursery rhyme of "Old King Cole."

Sir Henry failed to send all 1000 of his cards, and offered them for sale to press agents, but they were too "bespoke" and thus too expensive. It wasn't until around 1850, according to the V&A, that Christmas cards caught on--and then they did so with a vengeance. Millions were purchased and exchanged, establishing motifs (red and green foliage and berries, winter scenes, twee pictures of adorable children and dogs) that still survive today. Something that hasn't endured--lace frames, which reveal the influence of an earlier Victorian card, the Valentine. 

Christmas cards 1850, V&A

The card above, right, shows another new holiday tradition: the Christmas tree, which Prince Albert popularized around the same year of 1850.

As exchanging cards grew popular and mass-production of printed images grew cheaper, Victorians collected and kept their cards in albums, year after year. Below, two images by then-famous artists. At left, Harry Payne--known for his depiction of uniforms--created a card for staying close throughout Victoria's empire; and Linnie Witt, whose images of children were cherished, published the high-end card at right. Both are from the 1880s (V&A).

I find my cards are increasingly electronic, delivered via email. What about you?

For more images from THAT CHURCHILL WOMAN, visit the  Pinterest board behind the novel. 

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