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Torquay sends the World the first Christmas card

By DocTorre  |  Posted: December 24, 2012

The first Christmas card

The first Christmas card

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This year we will probably send each other around 700 million Christmas cards - though this is down from more than a billion a decade ago.

New ways of sending seasonal greetings have eroded the market for Christmas cards, with Facebook and email letting people easily keep in touch, rather than making contact on a once-a-year basis.

 

Indeed, it may well be that the traditional Christmas card will fade away as generations come along who barely know what a stamp is.

Until then we still keep writing our seasonal greetings, a tradition that began in Torquay... or Maidencombe, to be more precise.

It all began with an English civil servant and inventor called Henry Cole - later to become Sir Henry Cole (1808-1882). Henry played a key role in the introduction of the Penny Post and is sometimes credited with the design of the world's first postage stamp, the Penny Black. He also helped to organise the Great Exhibition in 1851 and was a founder member of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London the following year.

 

Being a very busy man, Henry was always looking for ways to save time.

One of his ideas was to design a decorated card with a message on it. He wanted to find a way to send Christmas tidings of good will to his many friends without the need to write individual letters.

 

To make his idea a reality, in 1843 Henry commissioned the artist John Callcott Horsley (1817-1903) to design the appropriate artwork for such a card. John was similarly a bit of an innovator. He designed the Horsley envelope, a pre-paid envelope that was the precursor to the postage stamp. He also contributed drawings to Punch, and was rector at the Royal Academy where he campaigned against the use of naked models.

It was while John was living at Orestone Manor in Maidencombe that he designed the world's first commercial Christmas card.

 

The card shows the feeding and clothing of the poor on each side, and in the centre there is a happy family having a drink and enjoying Christmas festivities. The words printed on the card were 'A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You'.

However, it caused some controversy at the time. Puritans were offended by the picture showing people raising a glass to Christmas, while social reformers objected to the small child drinking wine.

 

The card was immediately successful and in its first year two batches totaling 2,050 cards were printed and sold for a shilling each.

The Christmas card was born and hasn't looked back since.

 

If you have one of Henry and John's cards, hang on to it. Only around a dozen of the originals are still believed to exist. One of them can be seen in the National Art Library at the Victoria and Albert Museum. In 2001 another was sold by auctioneers Henry Aldridge to an anonymous bidder for £22,250.

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