Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Tradition of Christmas Cards

The Tradition of Christmas Cards
Each year Hallmark, American Greetings, and countless other stationery card stores sell millions of cards. There is a marked increase in the purchase of cards during the Christmas season. Sending out Christmas cards has always been somewhat of an “American tradition” during the holidays. But have you ever wondered how sending Christmas cards came about and the purpose of the tradition? 

The origins of the tradition of sending out Christmas cards are slightly blurry. Some debate that the invention of Christmas cards started with children in school sending out letters to their family during Christmas. Some consider it to have started in 1842 by a British man named Sir Henry Cole. Sir Henry Cole worked for the British government during the advent of the post office. He wanted to come up with a way so that more common people would use the post office. After brainstorming with his artist friend by the name of John Horsley, the two came up with the 1st ever “Christmas card”.

First ever made Christmas cards were sold for about 1 shilling and it was made of 3 panels. First couple of cards had the same generic design with two outer panels that conveyed caring for the poor and one middle panel depicting a Christmas family dinner. As the technology of printing improved, more and more people were able to buy Christmas cards because of the decrease in price per card. Similarly, Britain’s new post office started offering the Penny stamp which allowed commoners the ability to send mail. Because of decreased cost in making the cards and decreased cost in sending the cards, the invention of sending out Christmas cards caught on and became the treasured tradition we know today.

It wasn’t until the late 1840’s when Christmas cards were introduced into the US. At that time, Christmas cards were considered a rich commodity in the states. Most were not able to afford them because of how expensive they were. It was only until around mid 1870’s when Christmas cards were more widely used in American. A skilled German art printer, by the name of Louis Prang, decided to mass produce cards in the US. Since Louis Prang started mass producing Christmas cards, more and more people were able to afford them. As with most inventions, people find ways to monopolize the concept and turn it into a business. In the early 1900’s, John Hall and two of his brothers came up with what we now know to be Hallmark cards.