Victorian Christmas

With Christmas  just a few weeks away, lets take a look at.

 Victorian Christmas Ephemera

Victorian Christmas

The Victorians really enjoyed their Christmas and New Year celebrations and the immense quantity of ephemera which survives gives an almost unique glimpse into what life was like at the time.

 Festivities such as the Yule log and Kissing Bough date back to pagan times but, although their significance may have been forgotten, they continued as a means of livening up the long dark hours and depressing poorly lit rooms of the 19th century and the subjects still appear on greeting cards today.

But it was when an attractive young queen came to the throne, later having an increasing number of children that Britain took a more festive and imaginative approach.

It was not long after the much- reproduced first Christmas cards of 1843 and 1848 appeared that commercial cards arrived on the market - be careful when buying these because facsimiles (reproductions) of these early cards have been made since the 1880s.

Victorian Christmas

 Enormous progress had been made in printing techniques and these, combined with the arrival of the Penny Post in 1840, meant that, for the first time, the great majority of people were able to communicate cheaply.

Greeting cards are one of the most  popular subjects and collectors may choose to specialise in those by a specific publisher, by subject or by artist; there are many thousands of pieces still available for sale and they are seldom priced over $10. More desirable and, thus more expensive, are the mid-19th century cards in three dimensions showing children with toys and also detailed cards with Father Christmas dressed in his familiar coat.

Continental publishers often depict him wearing blue, green or white. In addition to seeing how the home, church or tree was decorated, the collector gains an insight into the humour and fashions of the time. The robin in many guises was always a best-seller originating from the 1840s- 50s when the postman in his scarlet tunic was nicknamed Robin Redbreast.

Victorian Christmas

 The Aesthetic Movement (an attractive literary-based style, often inspired by Japan and which influenced furniture and art) in the 1880s inspired amusing subjects   followed in the next decade by the popular shaped die-cut cards which typically included an excrutiating pun.
Paper lace

A totally different aspect and one not seen in the 21st century is that depicting the needy: the street child sweeping snow from a doorstep for a few coppers or the frail, elderly sandwich-board men
advertising the local pantomime or circus.

 As with all antiques, condition is important and many collectors eschew cards with backs damaged from being stuck down in albums.

There were also many home-made cards, Children would be taken to the local stationers and allowed to choose a selection of lace papers, perhaps some matching embossed envelopes, sealing wax and a packet or so of appropriately seasonal die-cut scraps.

These colourful scraps were one of the commercial successes of the second half of the 19th century and were immensely popular for decorating letter heads, mounting in scrap books or covering screens. They can still be found, costing only a few $$

Victorian Christmas
Crackers have been an essential part of the festive season for nearly 150 years and their artwork in catalogues, boxes and the crackers themselves could sometimes be described as folk art.

An unpulled cracker, let alone a box of them, would be a great rarity but the vibrantly coloured box labels can still be found. Lively subjects from the 1930s and 1950s are worth framing and can be bought from $10 to $20.

The finishing motif on the Victorian  Christmas cracker was nearly always a die cut scrap representing the theme of that particular box: fireworks, comical dogs, Punch and Judy, suffragettes or, later, motoring. These scraps are occasionally on sale along with the obligatory riddle which would have been contained inside along with the paper hat and toy.

One of the most important features of any festivity is food and drink and a wealth of Victorian  Christmas ephemera survives to illustrate it.

 From the 1890s, advertising products in colour became, and remain, very lively with an increasing use of named artists including Rex Whistler and, later, Norman Thelwell (famous for his pony illustrations).

Magazines included coloured advertising inserts and the larger firms such as Fortnum & Mason, McDougall's, Harvey's of Bristol and the Wine Society sent out well-illustrated, small Christmas catalogues which appeal to collectors.

Victorian Christmas

In the 20th century, the habit of going out for a special meal began and hotels laid on banquets both for Christmas and to see in the New Year; the resulting attractive menus, their artwork reflecting the period; survive to remind us of these occasions.

Have a merry Victorian Christmas and a happy new year


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