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The Oldest Christmas Card?

Since 1839, printed Christmas cards have been exchanged. Learn more about how this tradition started!

Since 1839, people have been exchanging printed Christmas cards. Two leading greeting card manufacturers who have famous collections of these cards have contributed much to the history of these greetings.

The Oldest Printed Christmas Card?

According to Rust Craft Publishers of Dedham, Massachusetts, they have in their collection of what is now thought to be the oldest printed Christmas card. It’s one which fell out of an old Bible received from England by a rare book dealer. The simple printed message, “A Merry Christmas to You” appears on the front of a delicate paper lace “card” measuring just 4 by 2 3/4 inches. On the reverse is a handwritten script that helps to establish its age: “A Happy Christmas to My Dear Mother, 1839.” The card was made by the London firm of Windsor and Pearce.

Check out this Christmas Card timeline…

The English Christmas Card

In the collection of Hallmark Cards, Inc. of Kansas City, Missouri, is another English card, long thought to be the oldest. It’s over 120 years old and was made at the suggestion of Sir Henry Cole. He asked an artist friend, John Callcott Horsley of the Royal Academy, to design the card. It was printed by lithography on stiff cardboard 5 1/8 by 3 1/4 inches, in dark sepia, and hand-colored. The design shows three generations of the Cole family toasting at a party in progress in the center panel, while on either side are panels representing Christmas charity. The message was again the simple, “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You.” 

Greetings card, John Callcott Horsley, 1843, England. Museum no. MSL.3293-1987. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

In 1846 this card was reproduced in an edition of 1000 and sold at Felix Summerly’s Treasure House in London.

The American Christmas Card

In the United States, Louis Prang of Boston is credited as being the “father of the American Christmas card.” He perfected the lithographic process of multicolor printing in the 1870s, often using as many as twenty colors on his cards.

Louis Prang Christmas Card, image Courtesy of New England Historical Society.

From these beginnings, the tradition snowballed to the stage where millions of Christmas cards are exchanged each Holiday Season.

Do you still send out Christmas cards? Tell us in the comments below!

Here’s a clever way to reuse those Christmas cards after the season is over!

This article was published by the staff at Farmers' Almanac. Interested in becoming a guest author? Contact us to let us know!

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I Send Christmas cards every year and I always mail them out December 1st.

Bobbi Havron

Yes, sending Christmas cards is one of my favorite Christmas traditions.

Kori Burgess

I not only send out Christmas Cards… I HELP people CREATE those very special cards and my company will PRINT the card & envelope, STAMP the envelope and MAIL it out for you! I teach people to get back to loving sending Christmas cards in the mail.

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