Tag Archives: Christmas Cards

Presents of Christmas Past

Today is Epiphany, the day on which we remember the visit of the Magi, and the traditional date for present giving. People have been giving and receiving presents at Christmas for centuries, but it was during the revival of the celebrations at the beginning of the nineteenth century that people came up with a novel idea – make something just intended to be a Christmas present.

The ones that are easily identifiable are books, such as this;

clearly labelled as ‘A Christmas and New Year’s Present for 1826’. It contains stories and poems,

Including, of course, ghost stories.

My next, from six year later, is a collection of comic stories and poems.

Illustrated with punning illustrations and some rather good jokes about the Great Reform Act.

Before my final Christmas Book, here is a Victorian Christmas card from the collection I mentioned in my previous blog.

Showing someone delivering Christmas presents. Also from the collection are examples of another minor Victorian Christmas invention, gift tags!

Now for the last book, a beautifully illustrated volume ‘Christmas with the Poets’ which was given as a present as it has the inscription ‘From Miss Millicent Brady to Miss Ada Stephens Christmas 1849′.

And now for the sting in the tale.

The book had been on my shelves for some time when I noticed how bright the cover was compared with other books of the same period. I knew what the Victorians had used to make high quality green dye, so I had the book tested. The cover contains enough arsenic to kill a man!


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A View of (Father) Christmas Past

As Father Christmas is preparing for his annual task I thought I would look at a couple of Victorian illustrations of the great man, taken from my own collection, both of which show Father Christmas, but not the Father Christmas we are used to.



The first is a Christmas Card, printed on a flat sheet, like most Victorian cards, and shows an elderly gentleman in a white, fur trimmed robe, with a satchel full of presents and a small Christmas tree.

The second is much more unusual, it is a complete Christmas Decoration (which was sent as a card ‘from Fergie’).

It is free standing as the ‘fence’ at the front folds out. Here Father Christmas is shown as another old gentleman in a fur trimmed white robe, but this time with two little girls, the older has a music book open, so perhaps they are carol singers. The girls are wearing warm winter clothes of the late nineteenth century, this would have been sensible at this time as the end of the century was a period of very cold winters.

On the fence in front of the are a number of birds, again very apt for the period of these cards. The cold winters were very hard for wild birds and so people (especially the members of the newly formed
Society for the Protection of Birds) started putting out food for them.

The card is still speckled with glitter, a typically unsafe Victorian embellishment, probably made of powdered glass and lead ore.


As for where these cards came from.

Earlier this year, after I had given a talk to a local historical association, an elderly lady asked if I would be interested in a Victorian Scrapbook. I naturally said yes, and the following day I was given an incredibly tatty scrapbook, full of a families collection of Christmas Cards. From the dates on some of the cards the collection was made between about 1885 and 1902, and contains over a hundred cards. The paper was so fragile that I had to carefully remove the cards, the collection is so diverse that they will undoubtedly be the subject of future posts.


Filed under Christmas Musings, Victorian

Christmas Musings – The Curious Omission from the Christmas Card

My brother has just posted a challenge on his blog, If you were making a Christmas card… in which he asks us to consider the question, ‘What picture would I use to front up my cards?’

Now, those of you who have read any of my blogs will guess I would pick something old and apparently slightly off topic, then read my explanation as to why it perfectly fitted the request. So I am going to do something different, something old certainly, and very much not a traditional Christmas card image. It is an eighteenth century souvenir from a visit to Germany, a sketch of Raphael’s Sistine Madonna.


Which will leave some of you wondering why I would describe a famous image of the Madonna and Child as a non-traditional Christmas card image. Well, read on and see what you think.

Throughout the eighteenth and into the nineteenth century there had been a tradition of sending letters to friends and family at Christmas. After the introduction of the penny post in 1840 more and more letters were sent and the writing of Christmas letters began to be seen by some as a chore. One such man was Henry Cole, a brilliant civil servant and administrator, in 1843 he decided to create an easy alternative to the Christmas letter, and invented the Christmas card. Produced for personal use some were offered for sale to the public (they were not a success).


The first Christmas card, celebrating partying and charity.

Despite the initial cold reaction Christmas cards soon took off, and by the end of the century were being produced in the thousand. However seasonal images were very rare, most seem to be cards designed for other purposes, with a seasonal message attached.


Two pairs of Victorian Christmas cards, at least one has ivy on it – though combined with non-seasonal bramble!


A home-made Christmas card of 1898, showing Bournemouth pier!


The twentieth century brought more seasonal images, such as the ivy and mistletoe on this First World War silk card, made in France for soldiers to send home to their families.


Though some First World War cards commemorated the regiments and areas of action, and can be compared with the corporate Christmas cards of today, only the message has any seasonal connotation.


 Another home-made card, this time from Mesopotamia


But what is the curious omission from these cards? Well, any mention of the birth of Christ for a start, or indeed any religious symbolism at all. This was very rarely depicted on cards in the nineteenth century, and only became widespread, though never common, in the twentieth.

So that is why I would consider my picture of the Madonna and Child as a non-traditional image for a Christmas card.






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