Monday, 24 December 2012

Happy Christmas!: The Victorians and their Odd Christmas Cards

As most people with a cursory knowledge of 19th century are aware, many of our Christmas traditions were imported in the Victorian era from Germany via Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's consort until his death in 1861. In researching Edwardian Christmas cards for my post on the sister blog, Eating Like an Edwardian, I discovered that many themes were not of the winter-Christmasy sort to which we are more accustomed. There were "summer" settings, young men and ladies in boats, and other such images used. Some Victorians, it turns out, had even odder notions of appropriate Christmas cards.

The Victorians pioneered the Christmas card - the first being sold in London in 1843 - and the mania was soon assisted by the Penny Post, which ensured that sending mail in general was no longer the preserve of only the wealthy. The giving and reciprocal obligation of holiday cards had begun. The present writer is old enough to remember a time when unsealed cards of no more than a certain number of words and mailed before a certain date, were charged a lower Christmas postage rate. Alas, no more. Expense, along with the proliferation of instant electronic communication, threatens the long tradition of the Christmas card.

Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year from the Idle Historian, and a few Victorian postcards (traditional and otherwise) for your pleasure.

[Well-known image of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their children
decorating the Christmas Tree at Windsor Castle, circa 1850]

[From the British Library: Two children, we suppose, wishing each
other good cheer?]

[A rather fanciful "Hearty Greeting" for the season]

[The Kindly Robin wishes you a Happy Christmas]

Read more reflections on history, idleness, and the art of living from the Idle Historian in To The Idler The Spoils 


Hels said...

Love your examples :) I note the post said that in 1843, Sir Henry Cole sold the cards in his London art shop for one shilling each. This sounds very expensive to me, so I assume it was not aimed at ordinary working families.

And trust the railways to encourage the sending of greetings cards - fast and easy for the families, and very profitable for the railways.

Miss Marie said...

Wonderful Christmas cards! Thanks for sharing these... even if the 'Hearty Greeting' one is slightly unsettling just for the mere fact of being so damn strange!

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