Christmas Cards from Way Back When

Sir Henry Cole

Sir Henry Cole, Inventor of the Christmas Card, 1843

Mailing a card to wish someone a “Happy Christmas”?  What were these people thinking?

Sending cards through the newly established mails must have been quite a novel idea, but it did prove to be a great one that quickly went viral, 19th century style.  The genius who began it all was a Londoner named Sir Henry Cole, who gave the job of illustrating it to John Callcott Horsley,  a successful artist and illustrator of the day.

Look closely at the card below and you’ll see a kid drinking wine, which caused somewhat of a disapproving stir.  It turned out to be a shrewd marketing gambit however, and they sold over 2,000 cards that year.  The tradition was launched!

first christmas card

The First Christmas Card, 1843

The idea of sending greeting cards had been around since the 1400s but they had been delivered by hand up until Cole’s stroke of genius.  Indeed, one might argue that greeting or note cards and checks are the highest possible use of the post! (We here at Greetings from Other Worlds would say so anyhow!)

We  have gone to extra lengths for the past few years to discover and re-issue the best old-time Christmas images and cards we could find and we’ve managed to put together quite a collection.  Some of the best of the new ones follow below so if you are one of those increasingly rare types that would like to celebrate the season by wishing your friends and family a “Merry Christmas” take a close look, time’s a wastin’!

Inland Printer Magazine Christmas Cover, 1885

Cover of the Inland Printer Magazine, 1885

Although this image didn’t start out as a Christmas card, we thought it was so great we made it one!

If you’ve followed us at all you have realized that we often feature the little known work of some of the world’s greatest illustrators and artists.  The richness of this vein of art (all produced before 1923) is wondrous to behold.  One such artist, N.C. Wyeth, is considered one of America’s greatest illustrators and was certainly one of its most prolific.  He illustrated 112 books and produced over 3000 works of art!  Here’s his Christmas cover for Judge Magazine of 1921:

Cover of Judge Magazine 1921

“Hey Kiddies! Here We Go Again!”, Dec. 17, 1921

ernst henckel jelly fish christmas card 1900

An original Ernst Haeckel Christmas card, ca 1900

Ernst Haeckel was an incredible man.  He was a Prussian biologist, naturalist, philosopher, physician, professor, and artist who made immense contributions to science and, I suppose, the art of the Christmas card.  In any case, he seems to be the only one who cared enough about jelly fish to honor them with their own cards.  We have several of these available so if the one above doesn’t quite warm your cockles, be sure to check out the others!

Father Christmas

“Father Christmas”, cover of The Century Magazine, 1895, by Louis Rhead

Christmas card by Ellen Clapsaddle, 1900

Christmas Card by Ellen Clapsaddle ca. 1900

If you go back to our last post (Halloween), you’ll see more of Clapsaddle’s work.  She was extremely prolific in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s and no doubt you’ve seen her work many times.  No doubt.

cover of st nicholas magazine, 1915

Cover of St. Nicholas Magazine, 1915

St. Nicholas Magazine was a very popular children’s magazine dating from 1873 and lasting until1940. That it was an important publication is clear when you consider that among its contributors were Edna St. Vincent Millay, Mark Twain, Louisa May Alcott, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Stephen St. Vincent Benet!  In any case, we deem this cover worthy of a Christmas Card for sure.

Santa's first visit, 1899

“Santa’s First Visit” by Harrison Fisher, 1899.

Know someone with a new born?  You couldn’t find a better card than this!

Santa taking a break on a chimney

Caught in the Act!

There are some wonderful black and white cards too and we’ve decided to add this one to the lineup this year.  I dug it up at the Library of Congress and unfortunately neither the Library or I know much about it except its publication date – 1900.

We have quite a few more at our Etsy shop.  You can put together a collection yourself or order a package of ten of the same image for just $15.00.  If you’re going to do it you’d better get busy and order now!

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1 Comment

Filed under art, Christmas, history, note cards, the past

One response to “Christmas Cards from Way Back When

  1. Carollen Ryan

    absolutely love this…including L and H reps! Thank you!!

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