Posted: 26th November 2020
Many of our modern British Christmas traditions have their roots in the Victorian period. One of these traditions is the sending of Christmas cards.
Sir Henry Cole commissioned the first Christmas card in 1843. He had 1000 printed of which 12 survive today. The widespread popularity of Christmas cards and their position as an annual tradition was greatly encouraged by Victorian postal reforms. Previously, the recipient had to pay for the postage and the cost of postage often depended on how far the letter was being sent. The introduction of the Uniform Penny Post in 1840 and the halfpenny post in 1870 meant a single rate stamp could send your letter, or card, anywhere in Britain.
The innovation of the Industrial Revolution during the Victorian period also led to improved mass printing. Mass printing of Christmas Cards began in the 1860s and had become big business by the 1870s.
Although the tradition of sending cards has survived, many Victorian Christmas cards were decorated very differently to ours today. Christmas traditions, and therefore festive iconography, were still being established. This meant Victorian Christmas cards often featured popular or humorous images rather than strictly festive scenes. For example, many of the Victorian cards we have in the North Lincolnshire Museum collection have images of flowers that could be found on greetings cards at any time of the year.
As more Christmas traditions became established the images on cards are more familiar. The Victorians established the traditions of Christmas trees and visits from Father Christmas which both often appear on cards.