World's First Printed Christmas Card Is Now on Display
On a side street in London, where the rush of the present falls away in a space bounded by the world created by the genius of Charles Dickens, the world’s first printed Christmas card is being put on public display as part of a special Christmas-themed exhibit.
The card on display at the Charles Dickens Museum was created in 1843, a year that revolutionized the celebration of Christmas as the burgeoning Victorian era began to celebrate Christmas in what would be a sedate precursor to the holiday madness of the 21st century.
In that same year, Dickens wrote “A Christmas Carol.”
“This was a really important year for the development of the modern Christmas. The Christmas card is such a big part of our Christmases today. And ‘A Christmas Carol‘ is such a significant story that we see every year at Christmas time,” museum curator Louisa Price said, according to The Guardian.
The development of the Christmas card and Dickens’ classic took place separately.
The card was designed by Henry Cole, who helped developed England’s Penny Post system. John Callcott Horsley illustrated the card, which shows a cheery family at a table and bears the message, “A merry Christmas and a happy new year to you.”
You can see the 176-year-old card at the Charles Dickens Museum? https://t.co/OjCftFrd5p
— Time Out London (@TimeOutLondon) November 21, 2019
Of the 1,000 printed, only 21 survive. They sold for the price of one shilling each. The one on loan at the Dickens Museum, which was shared by a San Francisco book dealer, was sent by a son to his parents.
Cole’s original proof is also on display at the museum.
In its recounting of the history of the Christmas card, Victoriana Magazine noted that the tradition did not fully flourish upon publication of the first card.
“But in spite of its ingenuity, the first Christmas card was not an instant success, even bringing about disapproval from the temperance league who feared the card would encourage drunkenness,” the magazine said.
However, by the 1860s, Christmas cards began to become popular, a trend that would only grow over time.
Dickens likewise reshaped the Christmas celebration.
Plenty of this sort of thing happening today @DickensMuseum – curator Louisa Price with the world’s first printed Christmas card in Dickens’s drawing room. Beautiful Books exhibition opens tomorrow. #CharlesDickens #BeautifulBooks pic.twitter.com/54gvS6pjOZ
— Michael Barrett (@mbpressoffice) November 19, 2019
“He was able to focus attention on Christmas and give it a sort of identity and verve which it had lacked,” Simon Eliot, co-curator of the museum, said.
“Dickens had no notion of what the festival would become today, but he was clearly onto something,” author Les Standiford said, according to Time. “He even went on to write four more Christmas books but none were even nearly as successful as ‘A Christmas Carol.'”
But success had its drawbacks, as noted by the Dickens Museum on its website.
“Dickens cornered the Christmas publishing market from the 1840s but later in his career, he began to distance himself from what had become an annual flood of festive books, stories and stocking fillers. ‘I am sick of the thing’ he confessed to a friend in 1868. Christmas, however, went on regardless,” the museum said.
“And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless us, every one!”
Dickens signed this for a fan in 1858, 15 years after ACC was published. Going into Beautiful Books exhibition @DickensMuseum from next week. https://t.co/IgD7EGEat4 pic.twitter.com/jtHNjjbncN
— Michael Barrett (@mbpressoffice) November 12, 2019
The Dickens Museum, at 48 Doughty St. near London’s Russell Square, is in a former home of Dickens and contains everything from rooms furnished in the fashion to the time to manuscripts that show the notations the author made in revising his creations. The card will be on display there through April 2020.
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