by Shannon Butler

In our collections here in the Local History room is an interesting album of Victorian era holiday cards. Since we are in the midst of that ‘most wonderful time of the year’ we thought we would share some of the cards with you. Today, we will take a look at some Christmas cards made by Raphael Tuck and Sons. This company based just outside of London, begin its work by selling pictures and frames in 1866, by the 1880s they had offices all over the world, including one in New York City. They produced their first Christmas card in 1871, and would go on to great success in the Postcard industry by the turn of the 20th century. In 1880, Adolph Tuck (son of the founder) launched a contest offering 5,000 pounds in prizes for the best Christmas card designs. It was a great success with over 5,000 paintings being sent in for consideration. As a result, we end up with an interesting variety of cards that don’t look quite like our Christmas cards do today.

The first Christmas card is said to have been designed and sold in England in 1843 by Sir. Henry Cole (ironically a postal worker) this is also the same time that Charles Dickens’ ‘The Christmas Carol’ was released. The card depicts a family around a table with full wine glasses raising a toast. From there, the standard images/symbols for Christmas took shape over the course of the 19th century. Many of the first mass produced cards had (quite appropriately) nativity scenes or winter landscapes, but as you can see with the images on the right, the Victorian era brought us cards with flowers, children, and animals. In our collection are several New Years cards as well, and they are similar in their design with flowers and animals. Today, our Christmas cards have everything from biblical settings, to naughty jokes, to romantic scenes of life in past times (Currier and Ives anyone?). But seriously, who wouldn’t love getting a “Merry Christmas” Kitty in the mail?

FUN FACT: The most expensive Christmas card was sold at auction for $35,000 (it was one of the Sir Henry Cole cards produced in 1843.

Happy Holidays from the PPLD Local History Department!