Christmas cards originated in England over 150 years ago. It seems that the founder of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London had so many Christmas greetings to send that handwriting them was impossible; so, in 1843, Sir Henry commissioned John Calcott Horsley to paint a card showing the feeding and clothing of the poor. A center panel displayed a happy family embracing one another, sipping wine and enjoying the festivities. "A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You" was printed on that first card. However, it seems that the card drew criticism because it showed a child enjoying a sip of wine.
This card (pictured below), is believed to be one of the first mass-produced Christmas cards. It pre-dated color printing, so was hand-colored.
Holiday cards designed by Kate Greenaway, Frances Brundage and Ellen H. Clapsaddle,(see bottom card)were favorites in the late 1800's & early 1900's. Most were elaborate, decorated with fringe, silk and satin. Some were shaped like fans and crescents; others cut into shapes of bells, birds, candles and even plum puddings. Some folded like maps or fitted together as puzzles; still others squealed or squeaked. Pop-up Cards revealed tiny mangers or skaters with flying scarves gliding around a mirrored pond.
Note the beautiful fretwork border on the angel card below.
For more than 30 years, Americans had to import greeting cards from England. Then, in 1875, Louis Prang, a German immigrant opened a lithographic shop in the US with $250 and published the first line of US Christmas cards. His first creations had nothing to do with Christmas themes, and featured flowers and birds.
By 1881, he was producing more than 5 million Christmas cards each year; now featuring snow scenes, fir trees, glowing fireplaces and children playing with toys. His cards are favorites of collectors today. The top card with holly and mistletoe is a Prang card.