The Christmas card, a sort of attenuated present, seems to be of quite modern origin. It is apparently a descendant of the "school pieces" or "Christmas pieces" popular in England in the first half of the nineteenth century-sheets of writing-paper with designs in pen and ink or copper-plate headings. The first Christmas card proper appears to have been issued in 1846, but it was not till about 1862 that the custom of card-sending obtained any foothold.

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The literature specially designed nowadays for Christmas reading is certainly not of a high order, whether we take books-which are issued at this time by the hundred-or the special numbers of magazines and newspapers, all of which have rubbishing stories with some tag in them relating to Christ-tide. Tales of ghosts, etc., were at one time very fashionable, and even Dickens pandered to this miserable style of writing, not enhancing his reputation thereby.


Akin in merit to this literature are the mottoes we find in the bon bon crackers, and the verses on Christmas cards, which are on a par with those which adorned the defunct valentine. When first Christmas cards came into vogue they were expensive and comparatively good; now they are simply rubbish, and generally have no allusion either in the design, or doggrel to Christ-tide, to which they owe their existence.

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Their origin was thoroughly threshed out in Notes and Queries, and I give the correspondence thereon (6th series, v. 155).

"Christmas cards were first published and issued from Summerly's Home Treasury Office, 12 Old Bond Street, in the year 1846. The design was drawn by J.C. Horsley, R.A., at the suggestion of Sir Henry Cole, K.C.B., and carried out by De la Rue and Co."

"Mr. Platt is somewhat in error in stating that the first Christmas card was carried out by De la Rue and Co. This firm republished it last year (1881) in chromo-lithography, but in 1846 it was produced in outline by lithography, and coloured by hand by a colourer of that time named Mason, when it could not have been sold for less than a shilling. Last year chromo-lithography enabled it to be produced for two pence. The original publisher was Mr. Joseph Cundall. It may be well to place the design on record. A trellis of rustic work in the Germanesque style divided the card into a centre and two side panels. The sides were filled by representations of the feeding of the hungry and the clothing of the naked; in the central compartment a family party was shown at table-an old man and woman, a maiden and her young man, and several children, -and they were pictured drinking healths in wine. On this ground certain total abstainers have called in question the morality of Mr. Horsley's design."


The Publishers' Circular, 31st December 1883, says: "Several years ago, in the Christmas number of The Publishers' Circular, we described the original Christmas card, designed by Mr. J.C. Horsley, R.A., at the suggestion of Sir Henry Cole, and no contradiction was then offered to our theory that this must have been the real and original card. On Thursday, however, Mr. John Leighton, writing under his nom de plume, 'Luke Limner,' comes forward to contest the claim of priority of design, and says: 'Occasional cards of a purely private character have been done years ago, but the Christmas card pure and simple is the growth of our town and our time. It began in 1862, the first attempts being the size of the ordinary gentleman's address card, on which were simply put "A Merry Christmas" and "A Happy New Year"; after that there came to be added robins and holly branches, embossed figures and landscapes. Having made the original designs for these, I have the originals before me now; they were produced by Goodall and Son. Seeing a growing want, and the great sale obtained abroad, this house produced (1868) a "Little Red Riding Hood," a "Hermit and his Cell," and many other subjects in which snow and the robin played a part.' We fail to see how a card issued in 1862 can ante-date the production of 1846, a copy of which is in our possession; and although there is no copyright in an idea, the title to the honour of originating the pretty trifle now so familiar to us seems to rest with Sir Henry Cole."


The Times of 2nd January 1884 has the following letter: -"Sir, The writer of the article on Christmas Cards in The Times of December 25th is quite right in his assertion. The first Christmas card ever published was issued by me in the usual way, in the year 1846, at the office of Felix Summerly's Home Treasury, at 12 Old Bond Street. Mr. Henry Cole (afterwards Sir Henry) originated the idea. The drawing was made by J.C. Horsley, R.A.; it was printed in lithography by Mr. Jobbins of Warwick Court, Holborn, and coloured by hand. Many copies were sold, but possibly not more than 1000. It was of the usual size of a lady's card. Those my friend Luke Limner speaks of were not brought out, as he says, till many years after.-Joseph Cundall."

As works of art - compared with the majority of Christmas cards, which are mostly "made in Germany" - the card almanacs presented by tradesmen to their customers are generally of a very superior character.

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In the old days, when there were oil lamps in the streets, the lamplighter, like the bellman and the watchman, used annually at Christmas to leave some verses at every house to remind its occupier that Boxing day drew nigh. One example will suffice, and its date is 1758:-

The Lamplighter's Poem:
Humbly Presented to all His worthy Masters and Mistresses.
Compos'd by a Lamplighter.

Revolving Time another Glass has run,
Since I, last year, this Annual Task begun,
And Christmas now beginning to appear
(Which never comes, you know, but once a year),
I have presum'd to bring my Mite once more,
Which, tho' it be but small, is all my Store;
And I don't doubt you'll take it in good Part,
As 'tis the Tribute of a grateful Heart.
Brave Prussia's king, that true Protestant Prince,
For Valour Fam'd, endow'd with Martial Sense;
Against three mighty Potentates did stand,
Who would have plundered him of all his Land:
But God, who knew his Cause was Just and Right,
Gave him such Courage and Success in Fight:
Born to oppose the Pope's malignant clan,

He'll do whatever Prince or Hero can;
Retrieve that martial Fame by Britons lost,
And prove that Faith which graceless Christians boast.
O! make his Cause, ye Powers above! your Care;
Let Guilt shrink back, and Innocence appear.
But, now, with State Affairs I must have done,
And to the Business of my Lamps must run;
When Sun and Moon from you do hide their Head,
Your busy Streets with artful Lights are spread,
And gives you Light with great indulgent Care,
Makes the dark Night like the bright Day appear;
Then we poor useful Mortals nimbly run
To light your Lamps before the Day is gone:
With strictest Care, we to each Lamp give Fire,
The longest Night to burn: you do require
Of us to make each Lamp to burn that time,
But, oft, we do fall short of that Design:
Sometimes a Lamp goes out at Master's Door,
This happens once which ne'er did so before:
The Lamp-man's blamed, and ask'd the reason why
That should go out, and others burning by?
Kind, worthy Sirs, if I may be so bold,
A truer Tale to you was never told;
We trim, we give each Lamp their Oil alike,
Yet some goes out, while others keep alight:
Why they do so, to you we can't explain,
It ne'er did sink into our shallow Brain:
Nor have we heard that any one could tell,
That secret Place where Life of Fire does dwell,
Such various Motions in it we do find,
And a hard Task with it to please Mankind.
Now, our kind Master, who Contractor is,
If a Complaint he hears of Lamps amiss,
With strictest Care the Streets looks round about,
And views the Lamps, takes Notice which are out;
Then, in great Fury, he to us replies,
Such Lamps were out, why have I all this Noise?
Go fetch those Burners all down here to me,
That where the Fault is I may plainly see:
Then straight he views them, with Remains of Oil,
Crys, ah! I thought you did these Lamps beguile;
But now the thing I do more plainly see,
The Burning Oil is a great Mystery:
Then come, my Boys, to work, make no delay,
Keep from Complaints, if possible you may;
Clean well each Glass, I'll spare for no Expence

Where I contract, to please th' Inhabitants.
Since Time still flies, and Life is but a Vapour,
'Tis now high time that I conclude my Paper,
And, if my Verses have the Luck to Please,
My Mind will be exceedingly at ease;
But, if this shouldn't Please, I know what will,
And that's with Diligence to serve you still.

Hone, in his Every-Day Book, gives, date 1823:
A Copy of Christmas Verses, presented to the Inhabitants of Bungay By their Humble Servants, the late Watchmen, John Pye and John Tye.

Your pardon, Gentles, while we thus implore,
In strains not less awakening than of yore,
Those smiles we deem our best reward to catch,
And, for the which, we've long been on the Watch;
Well pleas'd if we that recompence obtain,
Which we have ta'en so many steps to gain.
Think of the perils in our calling past,
The chilling coldness of the midnight blast,
The beating rain, the swiftly-driving snow,
The various ills that we must undergo,
Who roam, the glow-worms of the human race,
The living Jack-a-Lanthorns of the place.
'Tis said by some, perchance to mock our toil,
That we are prone to "waste the midnight oil!"
And that a task thus idle to pursue
Would be an idle waste of money, too!
How hard that we the dark designs should rue
Of those who'd fain make light of all we do!
But such the fate which oft doth merit greet,
And which now drives us fairly off our beat!
Thus it appears from this, our dismal plight,
That some love darkness rather than the light.
Henceforth, let riot and disorder reign,
With all the ills that follow in their train;
Let Toms and Jerrys unmolested brawl
(No Charlies have they now to floor withal).
And "rogues and vagabonds" infest the Town,
Far cheaper 'tis to save than crack a crown.

To brighter scenes we now direct our view-
And, first, fair Ladies, let us turn to you.
May each New Year new joys, new pleasures bring,
And Life for you be one delightful spring!
No summer's sun annoy with fev'rish rays,
No winter chill the evening of your days!
To you, kind Sirs, we next our tribute pay:
May smiles and sunshine greet you on your way!
If married, calm and peaceful be your lives;
If single, may you, forthwith, get you wives!
Thus, whether Male or Female, Old or Young
Or Wed, or Single, be this burden sung:
Long may you live to hear, and we to call,
"A Happy Christmas and New Year to all."

The present generation has never seen, and probably never heard of, "Christmas pieces," or specimens of handwriting, which went out of vogue fifty years ago. It was very useful, as the boy took great pride in its writing, and parents could judge of their children's proficiency in penmanship. Sometimes these sheets were surrounded with elaborate flourishings of birds, pens, scrolls, etc., such as the writing-master of the last century delighted in; others were headed with copper-plate engravings, sometimes coloured. Here are a few of the subjects: Ruth and Boaz, Measuring the Temple (Ezekiel), Philip Baptising the Eunuch, The Good Samaritan, Joshua's Command, John the Baptist Preaching in the Wilderness, The Seven Wonders of the World, King William III., St. Paul's Shipwreck, etc., etc.

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A publisher, writing to Notes and Queries in 1871, about these "Christmas Pieces," says: "As a youngster, some thirty years ago, in my father's establishment, the sale of 'school pieces,' or 'Christmas pieces,' as they were called, was very large. My father published some thirty different subjects (a new one every year, one of the old ones being let go out of print). There were also three other publishers of them. The order to print used to average about 500 of each kind, but double of the Life of our Saviour. Most of the subjects were those of the Old Testament. I only recollect four subjects not sacred. Printing at home, we generally commenced the printing in August from the copper-plates, as they had to be coloured by hand. They sold, retail, at sixpence each, and we used to supply them to the trade at thirty shillings per gross, and to schools at three shillings and sixpence per dozen, or two dozen for six shillings and sixpence. Charity boys were large purchasers of these pieces, and at Christmas time used to take them round their parish to show, and, at the same time, solicit a trifle. The sale never began before October in the country, and December in London; and early in January the stock left used to be put by until the following season. It is over fifteen years since any were printed by my firm, and the last new one I find was done in lithography."

A Righte Merrie Christmasse!!!- The Story of Christ-tide- By John Ashton, [1894]
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