On 17th December 1843, Sir Henry Cole, pioneer of the penny post, invited his friend, John Chalcott-Horsley, an illustrator, to deliver a small painting he’d commissioned, little suspecting that their meeting would spark a long-lasting Christmas tradition.
That night, he wrote: “Horsley came and brought his design for Christmas cards”. Delighted by the image of his middle-class family toasting Christmas, Sir Henry ordered a hundred copies, personalised each with a small drawing and signature, and sent them to family and friends.
Three years later, he launched the first commercial Christmas card. When improved printing methods, and a halfpenny postage rate made them cheaper to buy and to send, their popularity grew. By 1880, annual sales reached 11.5 million and the rest is history!
Although numbers declined slightly during the last decade, in 2019 over 205 million printed Christmas cards were sold in the UK alone, and sales of e-cards increased.
These numbers don’t include thousands of handmade cards crafted annually in households across the UK. Like other enthusiastic ‘carders’, members of Rotherham U3A’s Card-Making Group are busily engaged in this festive task, each working in “splendid isolation”, and comparing ideas by phone. Some are creating cards from new materials; others are recycling sections cut from last year’s Christmas cards. Something for craft-loving readers to consider, especially those with time on their hands. True, buying, making, writing and sending Christmas cards takes time, but receiving them is for most people, still one of the pleasures of Christmas.
Although closed at present, Rotherham U3A welcomes enquiries from anyone interested in joining when it’s able to re-open. Contact Sylvia Duncan via www.u3asites.org.uk/rotherham or call 01709 374841.