|Card from CCRS Grade 7A, 1923|
Christmas cards first appeared in England in the 1840s, but we can trace their origins to holiday customs of the 18th and early 19th centuries. Tradesmen sent new year’s greetings to their customers, and it was traditional to send holiday letters to family and friends at this time—by the 1830s it was possible to buy decorative stationery just for this purpose. Schoolboys made “Christmas pieces” on special paper printed with holiday borders to demonstrate their penmanship skills to their parents and visitors to their schools. Valentine’s Day cards also were common by the 1830s, and indeed many early Christmas cards simply reproduced the floral motifs of Valentine’s greetings.
|The first Christmas card combined expressions of|
holiday cheer with images of charitable giving.
|Louis Prang (1824-1909)|
Prang returned to Europe in 1864 to study the newest techniques in printing, and came back to the U.S. prepared to introduce chromolithography. While lithographs were printed in black and white and had to be colored by hand (like Cole’s Christmas card), chromolithography produced a full-color image. This was a difficult and labor-intensive process, and Prang considered his chromolithographs to be true works of art.
|Elihu Vedder’s prize-winning card, 1881,|
from the collection of the New-York
The Wisconsin Historical Society’s online exhibit, American History Through Christmas Cards, has a wonderful selection of 19th and 20th century cards that you can browse.
Information about Louis Prang comes from the New-York Historical Society Library’s blog.