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(Santa) Hats off to Sir Henry Cole

(Santa) Hats off to Sir Henry Cole

As we’re now officially on the downhill run to Christmas, we decided it was time for some festive fun.  Since now is probably the time when most of our readers will be at least getting ready to make a start on their Christmas card list, we thought we’d make this week’s blog all about the Christmas card.  

The Christmas card was invented in London

For the pub quiz, Sir Henry Cole is credited with coming up with the idea of producing commercial Christmas cards.  He introduced the first one in 1843, in fact it was first shown to the public in May of that year, possibly setting a trend for modern retailers.  The illustration was by John Callcott Horsley.  Not entirely coincidentally, Sir Henry Cole was also a significant postal reformer.  He is often described as having helped to introduce the Penny Post, actually, more accurately, he helped to introduce the Universal Penny Post in 1840.  This meant that letters could be sent anywhere in the UK for the price of a 1 penny stamp, more popularly known as the Penny Black.  An astute man, Cole quickly realized that popularizing the sending of greetings cards could do wonders for this new postal service.  Fast forward a century and a half and, in this case at least, very little has changed.

Christmas cards are still on paper

These days there are plenty of digital cards of various forms, but the greeting card industry in general and the Christmas card industry in particular, is still going strong.  You only need to take a look in any shop to see just how much demand there is for the traditional, paper Christmas card and that’s before you get to specialist sellers such as etsy shops and online outlets such as Moonpig and online photo printers which create Christmas cards from a customer’s own images.  Plus, of course, it’s literally impossible to know how many people still make their own cards at home.  Young people too, love to give and get Christmas cards, just as they also love to print out their favourite digital photos.

Christmas cards are still mostly bought in the real world

According to figures from the UK Greeting Cards Association, in 2015, the vast majority of greeting cards, including Christmas cards were still being bought in high street shops rather than online.  This tallies with the fact that so many high street retail outlets clearly consider it worth their while to sell them, particularly at this time of the year.  The GCA didn’t offer any reasons why this might be, but we suspect that for many people, particularly affluent customers, involves touch as well as sight.  One of the factors which differentiates high-quality cards from cheaper ones is the paper on which they are printed.

Christmas cards then and now

Interestingly, early Christmas cards actually rarely showed religious themes or even winter.  They typically showed pictures which reminded the viewer that spring would come again.  Cute and funny picture of children and/or animals were also popular (long before the internet).  This will doubtless strike a chord with modern, small businesses in multi-cultural locations such as London.  Then, as now, well-designed Christmas cards, like well-designed leaflets, are interesting to the eye and give people something they can literally hold in their hand.  We think that Christmas cards have a long and happy future ahead of them, just like quality leaflet delivery in London.