The world’s first commercial Christmas card was commissioned by Henry Cole in 1843. Three of the remaining cards were recently sold at auction, with one of them fetching over Â£8000. The cards originally came with an illustrated envelope.
These Christmas cards are interesting pieces of ephemera, but I have to admit that David Mitchell’s take on them is more in keeping with my opinions.
It’s natural to think of Sir Henry as an admirable fellow for having established this most respectable of Christmas customs. It’s natural but it’s a mistake. Bear in mind that, before printed Christmas cards existed, seasonal messages were written individually and in longhand. Before Sir Henry’s brain started to gestate, that was the tradition. His idea was to industrialise it.
He mechanised the exchange of greetings so that more greetings could be exchanged more quickly between more people. He considered the previous rate of greeting-exchange to be tediously slow and resolved to speed it up. This way, he presumably reasoned, people can show how much they care with much less effort. It’s carefree caring: now your heartfelt solicitude can reach dozens of people at once. The man must have thought he was actually manufacturing love.