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The first Christmas Card

A new Christmas tradition is born.

City of London, year of 1843.  The custom at the time was to hand write each one individually Greetings for Christmas and New Year’s Eve, for the family members, collegues at work and friends.  There is no exception to the rule.  But that particular year Sir Henry Cole was overflowed by his obligations and responsabilities.


Sir Henry Cole was a multitalented man.  He was born in Bath, England (1808), but he moved to London for the opportunities.  He was involved in public service since he was 15 years old. His first job as civil servant was as an assistant keeper of Public Records, transcribing records.  But during that time he managed to study watercolor painting and he got his sketches exhibited at the National Gallery of London.  Art was a field that he was passionate about and later on his passion would be the key fact to fulfill some positions at Art institutions, and to establish the new thought, the “Industrial Design”, that he was eager to create and improve.


He reformed the Public Records from its basis and contribuited to establish the Records General Office.  He also renovated the Post Office and helped to establish the first adhesive stamp, the “Black Penny”.  British postal rates were very high, by contrast the Penny Black allowed letters of up to half ounce or 14 grams to be delivered at a flat rate of one penny, regardless of distance.

He was an art patron and educator who is significant in the history of industrial design as he looked at the importance of combining art and industry.  Apart from that he edited and published handbooks of the National Gallery, Hampton Court and other art exhibitions.  You might enjoy reading "The man behind the first Christmas card" blog that we have prepared. It is all about Sir Henry Cole’s busy and fascinanting life, with some courious facts and the importance of his vision to establish and give England one of the first places in the industrial design Era, the creation of the first design schools and the organization of the Great Exhibition of 1851 - in this Link

After the facts described above it is not difficult to imagine that in 1843 Cole was too busy to write Christmas Greetings, but in Victorian England it was considered impolite not to answer mail.  So he requested help to one of his friends, John Callcott Horsley, an English academic painter of genre and historial scenes.  He designed the Christmas card as a triptych with scenes on each of the side panels, a family at table celebrating the holiday with wine glasses raised in a toast, flanked by images of people helping the poor.  In the center was the message “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to You”.


The image was printed on a piece of stiff cardboard 5 1/8 x 3 ¼ inches in size.  At the top of each was the salutation, “To:” allowing Cole to personalize his responses.

Horsley made a thousand lithographic copies of his greeting card. He also hand coloured each one himself (as we do it at “El Castillo de Ana”).  The cards that Cole did not send were sold for one shilling each (that is only 8 cents today), but in those days it was worth much more.

Some people didn’t like the card because it showed a child being given a glass of wine.  Despite of this all the cards were sold. It is estimated that there are only 22 cards in existence.  They have become collectible and one of them was sold in an auction for 22,000 pounds in 2013.

The year of 1843 would be difficult to forget, thanks to three very talented men that introduced and inspired new traditions, customs, carols and Christmas cards, Sir Henry Cole, John Horsley and Charles Dickens, who published his famous novel "A Christmas Carol".  The Christmas tree became also a new symbol for that time of the year, initiated by Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria and also a friend of Sir Henry Cole.


We at “El Castillode Ana” are inspired by the brilliant idea of Sir Henry Cole and want to continue this lovely tradition that began more than 180 years ago.  We have the most beautiful and treasured Christmas Cards because they are handmade and hand coloured one by one, with so much love and care.  Get to know our Vintage Style Christmas Cards and Advent Calendars on the “Christmas & New Year’s Section”!! - Link

If you wish to know the history about the Advent Calendar, please click in this link.



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