The first Christmas Card

“This is the world’s first commercial Christmas card. It was commissioned by Henry Cole in 1843, the same year Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol.

“Henry Cole was a lifelong civil servant with a great interest in art and design. He worked under Rowland Hill between 1837 and 1840 as they worked to introduce the universal Penny Postage and the first postage stamp, the Penny Black. Cole later played a key role in organising the Great Exhibition of 1851.

“1,000 of these Christmas cards were printed, and Cole used as many as he required before selling the rest for 6d (sixpence) each. This price that made them a luxury item, unavailable to the working class.

“This advert for the card appeared in the Athenaeum paper:

‘Just published. A Christmas Congratulation Card: or picture emblematical of Old English Festivity to Perpetuate kind recollections between Dear Friends.’

“The card was designed by John C. Horsley. It was printed lithographically and then hand-coloured. Although 1,000 were printed, very few are known to remain in existence. One example was sold in December 2024 for £8,500.”

- The British Postal Museum and Archive

The Retronaut says: “Note that not one single icon or image which we would now associate with Christmas is present in the card’s picture”


Thank you to Amanda Uren

4 comments to The first Christmas Card

  • Sarah Mooring

    Hmmm - I spot some ivy winding around the poles. I think we can safely say that ivy is an image associated with Christmas, as in “The Holly and The Ivy”, but I agree that there’s not much else.

  • VonsterVon

    I think it’s very christmassy…but then as a family we favoured old fashioned style cards…Dickensian images often make me think of christmas even when not at christmas time. the family and friend drinking wine and eating food together in celebration is exactly what christmas is about for most people, particularly non christians. I think we should bring this imagery back into use, I like it much better than all the crap we get now. I may paint my own next year and see how it goes.

    happy seasonal greetings retronauts. x

  • Asbjørn Feyling

    Well, I say, anyone for curling?

  • Asbjørn Feyling

    Livet er det som skjer mens vi planlegger noe annet.

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