173 Years in the Making – Personalised Christmas Cards Then and Now

10th November 2016

Christmas is just around the corner which means it’s nearly time to brush off your stationery and prepare to send out those season’s greetings, or maybe even design your own Christmas card using a self-styled family photograph or other fun images.

Sending out personalised Christmas cards is fairly commonplace these days, of course, but have you ever wondered where this popular holiday tradition originated? Here’s a quick look at the history of Christmas cards UK.

The world’s first Christmas card

In Victorian England in 1843, a busy socialite and civil servant named Henry Cole was looking for a quicker way to respond to his overwhelming stream of Christmas post. It was this dilemma that led to the idea of creating a simple card which could be mass produced and easily customised with a brief personal message for each recipient.

He discussed the idea with his friend and artist John Callcott Horsley, who agreed to illustrate it. The finished Christmas card featured a group of merrymakers toasting to the holiday along with the words “A Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year to You.”

Cole printed 1000 copies of it for his own use, but soon found that he had overestimated the number of cards he would need and sold the remaining ones for one shilling per piece.

How Christmas cards went mainstream

As it turns out, Cole’s seemingly innocuous Christmas card stirred up a good deal of controversy in 19th century England, with critics claiming it promoted drunkenness and underage drinking. 

Even so, people found they liked the idea of having a simpler way to wish their friends and family a Merry Christmas, and the demand for Christmas cards soon increased.

Despite the popularity of Cole’s idea, Christmas cards were initially too expensive for regular working class people, so the trend didn’t go mainstream until 1862 when a Camden Town printing firm began mass producing Christmas cards for the UK at a more affordable price.

Of course, trends were slower to catch on in other parts of the world back then, and Christmas cards didn’t reach America until 1874 when Louis Prang, a Prussian immigrant who had done some travelling through Europe, began producing his own designs to sell in America.

By the 1880s, his company was printing more than five million cards each year, and the popularity of Christmas cards has only increased since then.

Christmas cards today

Although the first Christmas card was created 173 years ago, the tradition is as strong today as it ever was, with around 750 million Christmas cards being sent out in Britain each year.

Of course, we’ve come a long way from Henry Cole’s simple design, and Christmas cards now come in all shapes, sizes and types, from Christmas cards online or e-cards to Bob Books very own personalised photo cards, which allow you to feature photos of your family and loved ones.

Are you planning to design your own Christmas card this year? Check out these fun ideas for setting up a Christmas photo shoot.