DAY 5: 12 DAYS OF VICTORIAN CHRISTMAS CARDS

Today, I’d like to share an image of a shaped Victorian Christmas card. These are my favourite types of cards because they’re all so different and unusual. This one has a Yule log design.

Copyright Michelle Higgs

Dating from the 1880s, the card is entirely flat but it’s embossed and has a three-dimensional effect. ‘Bringing in the Yule log’ was a tradition when a large log was brought home on Christmas Eve and burned for the 12 nights of Christmas until Twelfth Night.

DAY 4: 12 DAYS OF VICTORIAN CHRISTMAS CARDS

Today, it’s Day 4 of 12 Days of Victorian Christmas Cards and we return to the anthropomorphic theme – I did warn you!

This card from the late 1880s is signed RD for Robert Dudley and it’s published by Castell Bros. In case you can’t read the verse, it says:

In spring the cuckoo calls, in summer swallow twits.
Plump goose to autumn falls, winter brisk robin fits. 

The sender has hand-written in the ‘from’ section:

The Town Friend the swallow
To the Country Friend the cuckoo.

DAY 3: 12 DAYS OF VICTORIAN CHRISTMAS CARDS

On Day 3 of 12 Days of Victorian Christmas cards, here’s a design that doesn’t look very Christmasy at all: a chick with a special message.

Copyright Michelle Higgs

This slightly scary card is dated 1878 and is published by R. Canton. The design was part of a set which also included parrots, mice, cats and dogs. This is the card that first got me interested in Victorian Christmas cards, not just because of the unusual design but because it has a very cryptic message on the reverse. As mentioned yesterday, until the 1890s, most Victorian cards were flat, not folded, and the sender wrote a greeting on the back.

Copyright Michelle Higgs

In case you can’t read it, the message says:

Good-bye! I leave on Sunday next – fare thee well!!! 
Ato Acton [not sure of these words]
23 – 12 – 78

It’s difficult to work out the two words above the date because the way the letters are written is inconsistent. But the message has always intrigued me: who was the sender? Did he or she and the recipient ever meet again? All very intriguing…

DAY 2: 12 DAYS OF VICTORIAN CHRISTMAS CARDS

Yesterday, I shared an image of a Victorian Christmas card featuring rabbits riding penny farthings. Today, I’d like to show you a more ‘typical’ design of a child enjoying winter pursuits.

Copyright Michelle Higgs

Here we have a young girl with her dog skating on the ice (probably a frozen river or lake), complete with a very stylish muff! This card is a typical design from the late 1860s and early 1870s; it has a scalloped edge and it’s relatively small, about the same size as a visiting card that the Victorians left at people’s houses to show they had called.

By the 1880s, children made up a good proportion of the target market so it was very common to see Christmas card designs featuring children. As mentioned yesterday, Victorian toy shops were one of the types of retail outlet which sold Christmas cards.

At first, Victorian Christmas cards were completely different from modern versions because they weren’t folded; they were flat and the sender wrote a message on the reverse. It was not until the 1890s that the folded card became popular.

DAY 1: 12 DAYS OF VICTORIAN CHRISTMAS CARDS

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.

DAY 12 OF ’12 DAYS OF VICTORIAN CHRISTMAS CARDS’

On the final day of ’12 Days of Victorian Christmas Cards’, I’d like to share a card from the 1860s featuring a New Year message. Many Victorian cards looked ahead to the New Year.

Copyright Michelle Higgs

Cards from the 1860s always had a paper ‘lace’ border like this. In this card, you can see a scene from Dr Yule’s Popular Lectures for the Young with a Christmas pudding for the globe.  I’m not sure what the diagram on the blackboard is referring to!

I hope you’ve enjoyed looking at these cards as much as I’ve enjoyed selecting them. This is my last blog of the year so I’d like to wish you all a merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

VICTORIAN CHRISTMAS – ACCORDING TO PUNCH 1884

Here’s a short and sweet post for Christmas. We all know that many of the Christmas traditions we keep today, such as the Christmas tree, pulling crackers and sending Christmas cards, originated in the Victorian era. But did you also know that even back in the 19th century, newspapers and magazines were stuffed full with unoriginal, hackneyed articles at this time of year?

Paper lace card, 1860s. Copyright Michelle Higgs

In January 1884, Punch alluded to this in a piece entitled Unhackneyed Yule; Or, Yule-tide Gush. The writer devised a ‘New Game for Journalists’ to produce ‘a novel and really readable column of printed matter for next Christmas’. The rules were:

“1. No allusions whatever to be made to DICKENS’s Christmas Chimes, to WASHINGTON IRVING’s Old Christmas, or to the Grave-digger who punched the little boy’s head for whistling on Christmas Day.
2. Anybody who uses the words ‘Yule-tide’ or ‘Yule-log’ is immediately out of the game.
3. No references permitted to the Druids, or the Roman Saturnalia.
4. No paragraphs to begin with “A Merry Christmas! And why not a Merry Christmas? Is it not far better to be merry than to be &c. &c.?” or with “To-day the bells from many a tower and steeple ring in the season of Good-will, of Merriment, of, &c. &c.”
5. Nobody to mention plum-pudding. Turkeys only to be used with a good deal of fresh stuffing.
6. Any words expressive of the slightest tolerance for “Waits” subject the Player to a heavy forfeit.
7. Players to take for granted that the public is already acquainted with the uses of Holly and Mistletoe as decorative agents, and these, therefore, are not to be mentioned at all.
8. No Scandinavian ‘lore’ about Mistletoe to be trotted out on any pretence.
9. Feelings of gushing benevolence to the poor (on paper) to be sternly repressed.
10. Articles to be as short as possible.
11. If possible, no articles at all to be written.”

This is my last blog of the year so Yuletide greetings to one and all – oops, I’m out of the game! Happy Christmas everyone!

Pug dogs card, 1880s. Copyright Michelle Higgs