Why do we send Christmas cards?
I don’t want to shake a billion dollar industry to its foundations, but I have to ask the question. Every year, my wife and I sit down and select a photo of our daughter in holiday dress, add a snappy or humorous quote or greeting and order copies of these to send to people we know and people we think we know.
Whose idea was this?
Apparently, this all started in the 1840s with an Englishman who got tired of writing a personal note to each of his friends and acquaintances.
Sir Henry Cole asked an artist to draw up and duplicate a picture that represented the time of year and a message to which he could add a personal salutation and his signature. The leftover cards were sold for a shilling each and the commercial greeting card industry was “born.”
As the Christmas card idea grew in the mid 19th century, Americans were limited to ordering expensive European cards. Instead, personal business cards with a simple holiday design were and handed out. The image above was found in a portable writing desk (1887) I purchased in upstate New York. These made sense; upon introduction this “gift” was exchanged between two parties as a simple remembrance for future reference. “Who was that chap with gray streaks in his beard? Oh yes, Mr. Salter!” A rather early form of social networking.
When artists and printers in America upgraded their equipment, the card craze was on — thanks to a process called chromo-lithography — personal business cards, trade cards, post cards, calendars and greeting cards flew from the printers’ presses. Today, collectors look for the early Christmas cards produced by American lithographer Louis Prang. Often considered the father of the American Christmas card, his work starting in 1873 is among the most collectable.
, which began in 1909, and other companies have produced cards that are in demand as well (See the sample cards above from 1930s and ‘40s).
I have a better idea now what to look for when I am digging, and I have a new appreciation for sending out Christmas cards.
Who knows? Maybe someday one of those photo-cards could be a real treasure to a future urban archeologist. For more images of Christmas and to see the insides of the cards — take a look at the blog.
Greg Van Antwerp is a Brookfield resident and blogger, who can be found on the weekends in search of a good “dig” or a good story. You can read more about his adventures by visiting his blog.