Friday, 12 December 2014


My very first book was about the history of Christmas cards (Shire Books, 1999) and I still have a small collection of Victorian cards. Unlike modern cards, they are inventive, humorous and attractive; they are often like miniature works of art because they reflected the changing tastes of the public and the artistic movements of the time.

Although the world's first Christmas card was produced in 1843 for Henry Cole (later Sir), sending pre-printed Christmas cards did not catch on until almost twenty years later. Before the invention of chromolithography in about 1860, Christmas cards were very expensive to produce. They were also expensive to post until 1870 when the Post Office in England introduced a halfpenny stamp for postcards. At the same time, it declared that Christmas cards (and letters) could be sent for a halfpenny if they were enclosed in an unsealed envelope. 

From 1870, the popularity of Christmas cards really took off and by the 1880s, sales reached well into the millions. In 1877, it was estimated that 4,500,000 letters and cards were sent in the seven days before Christmas. The Victorians liked to collect all manner of things, and Christmas cards became the new craze. This hobby was especially popular with children, and they stuck their cards into albums, often with the date and name of the sender written underneath.

Christmas cards were sold in toy shops, tobacconists and drapery stores as well as bookshops and stationers. They were reviewed in newspapers, as books are today, and long advertisements were printed detailing the designs of cards in the run up to Christmas. 

For the next 12 days, as an antidote to the chore of writing Christmas cards, I'm going to share some images of my favourite cards. On Day 1, I give you a card from the 1870s featuring a slightly scary-looking Father Christmas in a green cloak, not red.

Copyright Michelle Higgs

Father Christmas is based on a Pagan figure who had a green or brown cloak, not the traditional red of Santa Claus. Until about the 1880s, Father Christmas on Victorian cards wore a mixture of red, green or brown but by the end of the nineteenth century, the present-giving Santa Claus in red was the image predominantly seen.  


  1. Agreed! Early Christmas cards were indeed like miniature works of art because they reflected the changing tastes of the public and the artistic movements of the time. Sometimes we forget that ephemera can be enormously important sources of information to collectors, students and curators.

    What is your book called? I would love to see it.

    1. Absolutely - I love ephemera! My book had the natty title of 'Christmas Cards' and if you're familiar with Shire books, you'll know it wasn't very long! I don't think it's in print any more but it covered cards up to the 1940s, not just Victorian ones.