The exchange of Christmas cards is a custom
so ingrained it is hard to imagine a time when it was not around. So it may be
surprising to some to find that it was only 150 years ago that the first commercial
greetings cards were produced.
A rare print of one of those cards - only 30 of which have survived - was sold at
auction recently for more than £5,000. Designed in 1840 by the Royal Academy
painter John Horsley for his friend Sir Henry Cole, 1,000 of the cards were printed,
selling for one shilling each.
They are said to have to have been made for Victoria & Albert Museum
founder Sir Henry's grandmother and depict his family enjoying Christmas dinner.
The image was denounced by Puritan groups because the family is shown toasting
Christmas by raising glasses of red wine.
However the idea was enthusiastically received elsewhere and other artists
soon followed Horsley's example. Hundreds of millions of cards are expected to be
sent in the run up to Christmas this year in Britain alone.
The price of the
very first cards would have been the equivalent of an average weekly wage, making
them the preserve of the wealthy classes. The Horsley card sold recently was produced by
Joseph Cundall, a children's and illustrations publisher. It was printed on stiff card and
Measuring just over five inches by three, it is believed
to be a salesman's sample, as it includes the original price details. An unnamed buyer paid
£5,170 at Bloomsbury Auctions in London on 25th November 2004.