Early American Christmas Cards and A Colonial Christmas Romance


Ever wonder about the history of Christmas Cards in America? Here’s what I found.

From Something Olde: Christmas Card History

“In the late 1700’s merchants sent their customers best wishes for the new year. The cards were created on lithographs and hand-colored. A lithograph is an etching on a stone that can be reproduced on paper. Sending Christmas cards first became popular in England over 150 years ago.  In the 1840’s John Calcott Horsely was a curator at the royal museum.  He was late sending his usual holiday letters to his friends and relatives for Christmas.  He asked the artist, Sir Henry Cole, to design and hand-color 1,000 cards.  He wanted the card to show people being fed and clothed to remind his friends of the needs of the poor during this season.”

From The Old Farmer’s Almanac: 

Holiday Cards

The first American to print and sell Christmas cards was Louis Prang of Roxbury, Massachusetts, who began publishing cards in 1875.

(In 1953) President Dwight D. Eisenhower is given credit for sending the first “official” Christmas card from the White House. An art print also became the standard Christmas gift for the president’s staff, a practice continued to this day.

Vintage Santa Christmas CardFrom Idea Finder:   “A relatively recent phenomenon, the sending of commercially printed Christmas cards originated in London in 1843. Previously, people had exchanged handwritten holiday greetings. First in person. Then via post. By 1822, homemade Christmas cards had become the bane of the U.S. postal system. That year, the Superintendent of Mails in Washington, D.C., complained of the need to hire sixteen extra mailmen. Fearful of future bottlenecks, he petitioned Congress to limit the exchange of cards by post, concluding, “I don’t know what we’ll do if it keeps on.”

Not only did it keep on, but with the marketing of attractive commercial cards the postal burden worsened. The first Christmas card designed for sale was by London artist John Calcott Horsley. A respected illustrator of the day, Horsley was commissioned by Sir Henry Cole, a wealthy British businessman, who wanted a card he could proudly send to friends and professional acquaintances to wish them a “merry Christmas.”

Christmas sleigh rideFrom The History of Christmas Cards: At Christmastime, many people would send letters to friends and family far away, and children at boarding school would decorate paper and write letters to show off the writing skills they’d improved upon that term at school. However, the first official Christmas card was created in 1843 in Britain.

Sir Henry Cole, director of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, would write letters to family and acquaintances at Christmastime. He and others could buy decorative paper on which to pen greetings and good wishes, but he found it to be a cumbersome task. So Cole commissioned an artist friend, John Calcott Horsley to create a card with a simple message that could be duplicated and sent to all his acquaintances. Horsley lithographed and hand-colored 1,000 copies of this first commercial card. It was a three-panel card – the center panel showed a family celebrating and the two wing panels depicted people feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. The card bore the simple greeting, “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You,” which would become the standard sentiment of the mass-produced Christmas cards.

old time SantaCHRISTMAS CARDS RISE IN POPULARITY

“Christmas cards were quite elaborate and though the lithograph printing process helped in producing cards, they first became popular among the upper-class in England. However, the development and improvement of the postal system, making sending cards more affordable, was a big part of the rise in the popularity of Christmas cards. Early cards were not necessarily religious Christmas cards but favored images such as beautiful flowers, birds, scenery and other pretty things.

In 1875 Louis Prang brought the commercial Christmas card to the United States. Prang, a German lithographer, had developed a new innovative way of printing that made the process of creating Christmas and other cards much simpler and more affordable. Like British Christmas cards, Prang’s cards included various images that were simply pretty and tasteful, not truly having much to do with Christmas or even necessarily winter. However, some cards did include holly, snow and some other wintry or Christmas images. His cards became extremely popular in the U.S.; his company printed almost five million cards a year by 1881.”

christmas-holly

Well, you get the idea. In my holiday release, A Warrior For Christmas, (also in audio now!) I journeyed farther back in early America to the colonial time period and the holiday celebration in a wealthy household. However, the hero, a former Shawnee captive, would rather return to his adopted people in the colonial frontier.

Blurb: Reclaimed by his wealthy uncle, former Shawnee captive Corwin Whitfield finds life with his adopted people at an end and reluctantly enters the social world of 1764. He plans to return to the colonial frontier at his first opportunity–until he meets Uncle Randolph’s ward, Dimity Scott.

Deaf since a childhood bout of Scarlet fever, Dimity Scott intends to be cherished for herself, not her guardian’s purse, even if it means risking spinsterhood. Then the rugged newcomer arrives, unlike any man she’s ever known. Dimity has learned to manage her silent world, but unaccustomed to the dangers of the frontier, can she expect love and marriage from Corwin, who longs to return to his Shawnee life?~

***A Warrior for Christmas is available from all major online booksellers including Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Christmas Bells“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”  ~Charles Dickens

6 responses to “Early American Christmas Cards and A Colonial Christmas Romance

  1. The cover, the blurb, the season, combined with your fabulous blog … how could I resist the purchase. I trust it will be a bright spot in my reading life. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

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  2. You clearly love Christmas and I love this little lesson you’ve put together. I felt smarter just reading it. A Warrior for Christmas sounds great. I worked at a summer camp for children with special needs and was very close to one of the little girls who was deaf so I’m fascinated as to how you will approach a deaf heroine. I plan on picking up a copy and I’d like to review it for my blog if that’s okay with you. I’m always very nice but I wanted to ask you first. Thanks. -Arielle

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    • Thanks so much, Arielle. Certainly. I would be honored. I did a lot of research into that era as to what was done for the deaf, not much. Our modern day sign language has its origins in what the French contrived mixed with signs that an isolated community who had many deaf members came up with (from Martha’s Vineyard in the early days), and signs from Native Americans. Also interesting to me is that I helped in a camp in the summers for special needs children through my teen years and that has influenced me too.

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  3. That is so neat. I never knew how Christmas cards came about.
    Sue B

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