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Thursday, December 21, 2006

There were many forerunners of the type of card we know today. At the year's end, thge ancinet Egyptians' gave each other small,symbolic presents as tokens of good luck for the coming year; New Year messages attached to gifts have been found in Egyptian tombs of the 6th century B.C. The Romans also exchanged gifts, considered good omens, on the first day of January.

For example, a pot of honey expressed wish that the coming year would be a sweet one.
"Lucky pennies" of copper with the two faced head of Janus (indicating the past and the future) were customary New Year's giftsa. Roman lamps, decorated with winged figure of Victory, carried the inscription, "May the New Year be happy and lucky for you."

Many centuries later, the invention of printing and engraving made possible a wider dissemination of such sentiments. "Cards" snd broadsides were limited to wishes for the New Year, but they often depicted Christ and so began to connect the Christmas and New Years festivals.

By the 19th century, "all-purpose" cards were being printed, on which the sender could fill in the name of the recipient, the occasion (birthday, Valentine, Christmas, Easter, etc.), a short greeting, and signature.

Then an energetic Englishman named Hery Cole got an idea. Later, Cole was to be involved in the founding of teh Victoria $ Albert Museum, the penny post, perforated postage stamps, and postcards. In 1843, he commissioned artist John Calcott Horsley to design the first Christmas card.

The card is in the form of a triptych. The center panel depicts a family party in which the adults are toasting the addressee with full glases of wine. (This occasioned criticism from the temperance folk who worried about encouraging drunkenness). The side panels represent the spirit of Christmas charity - on one the poor are being fed, and on the other given a warm clothing.

At the top of the card, there is a dotted line for the name of the addressee, and at the bottom another one for the sender's signature. Also at bottom: "Published at Felix Summerly's Home Treasury Office, 12 Old Bond street, London, by Joseph Cundall". The card's mesage - "A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year" in my opinion, had never been improved upon.

One thousand of these cards were printed and hand-colored by a professional "hand colorer" name Mason and sold forone shilling each, which was expensive for those days. Twenty-one of these cards are known to exist today.

For many years - until the 1950s, in fact - it was believed that the Cole/Hosley card was printed in 1846, Cole referred to that date in two memoirs written long afterward, but his memory was at fault. The matter was settled when three of the original cards, signed by the artist and dated 1843, came to light.

The first card hardly took the world by storm; the second was not designed until five years later, in 1848, by W.M. Egley, a few charming cards of quite different appearance were printed in England, but it wasn't until the 1890s, after the development of color printing had made the cards less expensive, that the custom of sending Christmas cards really took off.

Jonathan King was the leading authority on Christmas cards in Victorian times. In 1894, his collection of cards weighed between six and seven tons and numbered more than 163,000 varieties. And the collection was far from complete.

In the United States, the custom was slower to catch on. Louis Prang was the "father of the American Christmas card." Prang was a German immigrant who founded a small business in Roxbury, near Boston, Massachusetts, in 1866. He perfected the lithopgraphic process of multi-color printing. In 1874, he began printing Christmas cards in at least eight colors and sometimes as many as twenty. The cards were more expensive than the European cards but also more exquisite. They also tended to be more Christmasy, with images such as the Nativity and children playing with toys.

Today, almost two and half billion Christmas cards are printed each year in the United States alone. Seasonal greetings are an age-old custom, and a lovely, warming one.

(Source: INVENTING CHRISTMAS How Our Holiday Came To Be by: Jock Elliott)
posted by infraternam meam @ 1:01 AM  
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Name: infraternam meam
Home: Chicago, United States
About Me: I am now at the prime of my life and have been married for the past 25 years. Sickly at times, but wants to see the elixir vita, so that I will be able to see my grandchildren from my two boys.
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