Customs

Learn About the Start of the Christmas Card Tradition


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What do you do when you want to send holiday greetings to your friends, but you have too many acquaintances to permit a personal touch? Why not start a holiday tradition, instead? That’s what happened 176 years ago with the creation of the Christmas card.

Sir Henry Cole (1808-1882) was a London civil servant who rubbed shoulders with a lot of influential people. One of his good friends was Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria. Because of his extensive list of pals, he found it impossible to sit down and write out a personalized letter to each of them during the Christmas season. To solve the problem, he enlisted the services of John Callicott Horsely to create the first commercially-produced Christmas card.

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The first commercially-produced Christmas card, created in 1843.

Horsely created the card for the 1843 Christmas season and printed 1,000 copies for Cole. It was well received by his friends and created a sensation. Everyone, it seemed, wanted a Christmas card, and printers soon found themselves hard at work in the months leading up to Christmas to meet the demand. At one shilling each (the average weekly wage at the time), cards were only available for the wealthy, but the custom was established. In the United Kingdom, an estimated 900 million cards were sent in 2019. In the United States, over 2 billion cards were exchanged.

Only 12 of the original 1,000 Cole Christmas cards are still in existence today. In 2001, one of these sold at an auction for £20,000 ($25,904 USD).


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