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The Art of Season’s Greetings 1: Victorian “Chromos”

(Added 2 December 2008)

It is rumoured that Christmas cards originated in England, and that the first one was published in London in 1843. Though note cards, decorative stationary and Valentine’s Day cards were certainly popular, it was the introduction of chromolithography in the late 1850s that allowed for commercial production. The idea of the Christmas card traveled from England to Germany, and from Germany to America with German designer Louis Prang. However, these cards, called “chromos,” remained a European phenomenon during the second half of the nineteenth century, and became increasingly “frilly” in the late Victorian period (1870s-80s). Greeting card historian Kenneth Rowe says this was because of the “unending search for novelty” during this period. There is a good record of these cards, as it was popular to paste them into albums. Rowe writes further that, “Reason returned to the field in the late 1890s and early 1900s when the folded card as we know it today became the norm, and the simplification of design fostered by the Arts and Crafts movement replaced late Victorian elaboration.” Before 1890, there was no greeting card industry in Canada, and cards were imported from England, Germany and the United States of America.

Image: Nineteenth Century Greeting Card by Rosina Emmett. Reproduced in Helena E. Wright, With Pen and Graver: Women Graphic Artists Before 1900, (Washington, D.C.: National Museum of American History Smithsonian Institute, 1996): 11.

“…first Xmas card in 1843, ” The Low Down to Hull and Back News, Dec. 25, 1986.

Jennifer Bunting, “Collecting Greeting Cards,” The Canadian Collector (September-October, 1973): 17.

Kenneth Rowe, “Greetings: the Christmas card in Canada,” Canadian Collector 21 (November-December 1986): 36.

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