The 'first' commercial Christmas card was an English invention devised by Sir Henry Cole in 1843. It was intended to save Cole, who had numerous business and social contacts, from writing individual letters. The first Christmas cards were illustrated by John Callcott Horsley in London on the 1st of May 1843. The picture depicted a family with a small child drinking wine together.
Early Christmas cards rarely showed winter or religious themes, instead favoring flowers, fairies and other fanciful designs that reminded the recipient of the approach of spring.
Humorous and sentimental images of children and animals were popular, as were increasingly elaborate shapes, decorations and materials. With the introduction of cheap posting rates and the advent of the postcard it was the end of the elaborate Victorian-style cards.
However by the 1920s cards with envelopes had returned and they became quite fanciful with the Art Nouveau and Art Deco periods of the 1920s and 30s. Christmas cards became a profitable business for stationary manufacturers.
The World Wars invoked patriotic themes however with the end of the war the late 1940s and 1950s reflected the penchant for brightly coloured cards in reds and blues. The use of cartoon illustrations became popular and humorous Christmas cards became popular.
Find lots more cards from the past in the Christmas card gallery...