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Collector’s Minute: First Commercial Christmas Card

by Mike Wilcox (12/21/10).

An example of the first commercially produced Christmas card. The original 1843 run of the cards were hand-colored lithographs and 2,050 were printed. There are only 20 believed to exist today.

To collectors, there is always a “Holy Grail” or the “Stuff of Dreams” for their category of collecting, for which, of course, a small fortune would be required to obtain the item. For Collectors of Christmas memorabilia there are many items out there that could fill their personal “12 Days of Christmas” wish list.

The Christmas we know today—in all its modern commercial glory—is, in essence, a Victorian invention. And the one piece of Christmas collecting that stands out in my mind is the Christmas Card, but just any old card; the first commercially printed card.

The first commercially printed Christmas card was reputed to be the one shown above. The originator of the idea was Sir Henry Cole (1808-1882), best known for his work establishing both the renowned Victoria and Albert Museum and the modern British Postal system. The panels of the card depict the original ideals of Christmas—charity and family—the design being the brain child of British artist John Callcott Horsley (1817-1903). The cards themselves were hand-colored lithographs printed in an edition of 2,050, measuring 5 1/8 inches by 3 1/4 inches, and printed by Jobbins of Warwick Court, Holborn, London, in 1843.

The original cards were only printed in 1843, but copies have been made in batches in ensuing years. The first reproductions were printed in 1881, but unlike the originals, were not hand colored. Reprints of the 1881 copy were issued again, circa 1955. Of the 1843 originals, only some 20 are thought to still exist, the majority being in museums. The last one in private hands sold at auction sold for $6,950 in 2005. It was addressed to a Miss Tripsack, a close friend of the family of poet Elizabeth Moulton Barrett, wife of Robert Browning.

Since 2005, no more have turned up. But who knows? Somewhere, in an old album, trunk or stuffed between the pages of an old copy Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol,” others may lie waiting discovery.

Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers, is a Worthologist who specializes in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement.

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