Last year, in the run-up to Christmas, I shared some images of Victorian Christmas cards from my small collection (my very first book was a Shire book on collecting cards). People seemed to like these images so I’ve selected twelve more unusual, humorous or downright odd cards to show you. Hope it’s a good antidote to the madness of Christmas shopping…
On Day 1, I give you rabbits riding bicycles! Penny farthings, to be precise. These bunnies are extremely good at multi-tasking because some of them are also playing trumpets!
|Copyright Michelle Higgs|
In case you can’t make out the verse, it says:
By “Rabbit” Transit ‘mid snow and icicles
We bring our Christmas wishes on bicycles.
The Victorians loved to put animals on their Christmas cards and they particularly enjoyed making them anthropomorphic, like these rabbit cyclists. I have quite a few cards with anthropomorphic designs so I’m sure you’ll be seeing a few more!
Just a quick recap about the history of Christmas cards: although the world’s first Christmas card was produced in 1843 for Henry Cole (later Sir), sending pre-printed Christmas cards did not catch on until almost twenty years later. Before the invention of chromolithography in about 1860, Christmas cards were very expensive to produce. They were also expensive to post until 1870 when the Post Office in England introduced a halfpenny stamp for postcards. At the same time, it declared that Christmas cards (and letters) could be sent for a halfpenny if they were enclosed in an unsealed envelope.
From 1870, the popularity of Christmas cards really took off and by the 1880s, sales reached well into the millions. In 1877, it was estimated that 4,500,000 letters and cards were sent in the seven days before Christmas. The Victorians liked to collect all manner of things, and Christmas cards became the new craze. This hobby was especially popular with children, and they stuck their cards into albums, often with the date and name of the sender written underneath.
Christmas cards were sold in toy shops, tobacconists and drapery stores as well as bookshops and stationers. They were reviewed in newspapers, as books are today, and long advertisements were printed detailing the designs of cards in the run up to Christmas.
Agreed! Early Christmas cards were indeed like miniature works of art because they reflected the changing tastes of the public and the artistic movements of the time. Sometimes we forget that ephemera can be enormously important sources of information to collectors, students and curators.What is your book called? I would love to see it.
Absolutely – I love ephemera! My book had the natty title of 'Christmas Cards' and if you're familiar with Shire books, you'll know it wasn't very long! I don't think it's in print any more but it covered cards up to the 1940s, not just Victorian ones.