Vintage Christmas Cards

vintage Christmas cards 

Millions of seasonal cards are posted annually in Britain, and millions more are delivered by hand.
The majority of the   Vintage Christmas Cards   feature a traditional design, either a religious theme - which includes stables,camels, sheep, angels or a combination of the lot - or snow, Santa, reindeer, robins, candles and holly leaves. Often the cards are humorous, but still include one or more of the traditional elements.

Yet this wasn't always the case.

Many of the early greetings cards look boring and very unfestive to our modern eyes. Who would enjoy sending (or receiving) a plain cream card bearing a shield, one initial or a date? Other cards, though, are elaborate and very beautiful.

 A delicate, intricate card dating from the 1920s features a bluebird design, more suitable as an birthday or valentine card than one intended for the cold Christmas period.

 Why would people send a picture of an early car covered in roses at Christmas? Or a child on the beach, a butterfly or a hatching chick? It just goes to show how much people's tastes and ideas have changed over the decades - and how commercialised Christmas has become.

vintage Christmas cards 
People often cite the writer Charles Dickens as being the instigator of the Christmas tradition as we know it; his novels Christmas Carol and Pickwick Papers are classics which contain descriptions of plum pudding, roast goose, mistletoe, mince pies and plenty of jollity - just the type of Christmas we like to imagine.

In pagan times, at this time of year our ancestors would decorate their homes with greenery such   as holly, ivy and mistletoe when they celebrated the winter festival. But they didn't have Christmas cards.

 Nor, surprisingly, did Charles Dickens at the time of writing his festive books. However, although the idea of sending cards as we know them hadn't been introduced, people still exchanged greetings at Christmas, even if they just swapped their business cards (suitable brightened up with a painting of holly leaves), or penned seasonal letters on specially decorated notepaper. Children might give an example of their best handwriting, neady framed, or maybe sew a design or letters onto a piece of cloth.

vintage Christmas cards 

 No-one can say for sure when the very first vintage Christmas card was sent, but experts cite a card sent by Sir Henry Cole (later, director of the Victoria and Albert Museum), which was designed by artist John Calcott Horlsey. This card, published in 1843, showed a large family toasting absent friends with wine.

At the time it was severely censured as it was thought it would encourage drunkenness. In 1870 new postal regulations allowed the transmission of postcards and printed matter at reduced rates, and this, coupled with new developments in embossing and color  printing, enticed many companies to manufacture greetings cards.

vintage Christmas cards 

A collection of vintage Christmas cards and greetings postcards, make a wonderful display at this time of year, and providedyou don't hanker for the very rare and intricate designs can be assembled quite cheaply. Basic greetings cards dating from the early part of the twentieth century can be bought for £2 or so.

Some of them are very pretty, with embossed edges, tassels, glitter or cut outs - and often a combination of the lot!

There were even cards made from celluloid, which, though attractive, must have been a great fire hazard at a time when Christmas trees were still decorated with candles clipped to the branches in tin holders.

Christmas postcards were often sent in the early part of the century because they were cheaper than folded cards and there was no need to buy an envelope.

Many of these postcards are just as pretty as 'proper' cards, and often have the bonus of a chatty message rather than just a conventional greeting.

Birds, flowers and children were common Christmas card designs.

vintage Christmas cards 

Unlike today, when it seems that the majority of cards are humorous or light-hearted, early cards tended towards the sentimental, especially during the Great War which was the heyday of the beautiful hand- embroidered silk postcards.

Even so, some humour was about, such as a rather plain-looking card dating from the early 1900s decorated with a lady and gentleman wrapped up warmly against the snow, printed in red, green and gold.

 A message on the top corner reads 'Your present is inside.' On opening the card the foil band from a cigar is revealed, together with a poem: 'I dreamt I had sent you a Christmas cigar With the name of your favourite brand on, But when I awoke there was nothing but smoke - For you'd puffed it away with a-band-on!'

Humour, too, was found in such cards as those by Mabel Lucy Atwell and similar artists. The lack of religious cards is surprising; considering the meaning of the  festival you would expect to find plenty of stable scenes and angels, yet   it seems that until the 1950s, they were the exception rather than the rule.

Some cards are truly lovely and elaborate, such as one dated 1929 which bears a butterfly made from card overlaid with red and purple felt, and decorated with metallic paint.

vintage Christmas cards 
This butterfly is  mounted on a hinged strip which causes it to stand out from the gold-patterned background, ornamented with embossed flowers and ivy.

On the butterfly's thorax is a gold 'M' - the initial of the sender. The card has a paper-lace deckled edge, a tie cord trimmed with a silk tassel, and a poem written in gold.

This pretty card was purchased recently for just £4, showing that it's still possible to form a collection of these charming things without too much expense.

It's interesting to note the postmarks on the postcards; many are dated the 24th of December, and some even the 25th, which puts our modern 'post-early-for-Christmas' date to shame; up to 1960, deliveries were still made on Christmas Day. One of the nicest things about collecting postcards and greetings cards is that they take up little space.

Favourites can be mounted in plastic pockets, then fixed into an album, while the rest will fit inside a shoebox, and are fun to browse through.

So, as you massage your tired wrist after writing out umpteen Christmas cards, just remember the Victorian innovator, Sir Henry Cole, who caused that very first card to be designed. Yes, it's all his fault!

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