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A Christmas card from the 1920s at King’s Lynn Museum

In our fortnightly Picture This feature, Lynn Museum curator Dayna Woolbright looks at the history of the Christmas card...

Like many Christmas traditions, Christmas cards date from the Victorian era.

Henry Cole (1808-1882) was a prominent civil servant, educator and inventor. He was instrumental in reforming the British postal system, helping to set up the Uniform Penny Post. In 1843 Cole commissioned his friend, artist John Callcott Horsley, to produce a Christmas card.

A Christmas card from the early 1920s
A Christmas card from the early 1920s

Horsley's design depicted three generations of the Cole family raising a toast, surrounded by a decorative trellis and scenes depicting acts of giving. Cole then commissioned a printer to transfer the design onto cards, printing a thousand copies that could be personalised with a hand-written greeting.

Cole’s Christmas card was offered for sale at a shilling apiece, which was expensive at the time. However, the popularity of sending Christmas cards increased with the improvement of printing methods, and the idea began to spread. Themes of birds, flowers and Nativity scenes were common, competition and a desire for originality gave rise to a highly successful genre of novelty and sometimes unusual cards.

This card dates from the early 1920s. On the reverse is the message “With sincere best wishes for Christmas Emily.”

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