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VICTORIANA - Enjoy articles relating to the Victorian Era. A regular column in each issue of The Tea House Times. Written by Patrice LePera - Authority, Victorian Era, Historical Writing -

December 2010 Posts


Blog Entry

Victorian Yuletide Season Cards by Patrice LePera

posted by TeaHouseTimes Admin, ADMINMonday, December 13th 2010 @ 5:09 PM

From the November/December 2010 issue of The Tea House Times.  To view the most recent issue, please register / log-in at for free access.

It was an ancient tradition in Victorian England to send letters yearly at Yuletide to dear friends and family.  In mid-December 1843, Sir Henry Cole, found himself quite late sending his Season’s letters.  He prevailed upon his good friend, John Calcott Horsley, to design a card instead of a letter, with the greeting printed already, and a blank for people’s names.  Sir Henry was the first Director of what became London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, a trusted friend of Benjamin Franklin, founded art-education, and eventually knighted in 1875.

Sir Henry had invented the Penny Postal system three years earlier, with several deliveries a day within London (as Sherlock Holmes aficionados will recall) so 1,000 cards were designed within a week, printed in black and white lithograph, hand-colored by William Mason, and 300 of them sent by post.  It is Sir Henry’s Handwriting filling in the blanks with his friends and family’s names.

He put 300 for sale in a friend’s shop on Bond Street, but the anti-liquor movement group gave his card considerable abuse, as it showed three generations toasting you, the viewer, with red wine, (particularly Mother giving a sip of wine to her child in the European custom).  They publicly announced that the card was “deliberately conceived to foster and promote the consumption of alcohol during the holiday season”.

Mind you, it was an expensive proposition to send one:  The cards cost a shilling each (about a week’s average wage) and a penny to post. Envelopes were barely invented by 1851 for the Great Exhibition.

The early cards tended to feature not winter scenes, but acts of charity, robins, flowers; signs of spring and tokens of hope for the New Year.  The two side panels on the Horsley’s card are ‘Clothing the Naked’ and ‘Feeding the Hungry.’


©2010 by Patrice LePera ~ Authority, Victorian Era, Historical Writing ~

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