The First Ever Christmas Card

Christmas Card

A quick reminder that the last posting dates for Christmas are nearly here!

This year, that’s today, Tuesday, 18th December for second-class mail, and Thursday, 20th December for first class.

The Greeting Card Association estimates that in 2017, around 100 million single Christmas cards were sold in the UK. Box/pack and online sales accounted for an additional 900 million cards, bringing the total number of cards sold to an astonishing one billion in the UK alone.

The First Christmas Card

Henry Cole sent the UK’s first Christmas card in 1843. Today, Henry is perhaps best known as a founding director of the V&A. As a senior civil servant, he had been instrumental in reforming the postal system and setting up the Penny Post.

The story goes that a pile of unanswered mail at Christmas was beginning to bother him. He needed a way to wish friends and family the compliments of the season in a fraction of the time.

Henry got together with his friend John Callcott Horsley, an artist. Horsley designed a card featuring three generations of Sir Henry’s family raising a Christmas toast in a central, hand-coloured panel, with scenes of Christmas charity on the outer panels.

The two printed 1000 cards, selling them for a shilling a piece.

Prince Albert and Charles Dickens

Although initial sales weren’t encouraging, the 1840s were a time of change. Prince Albert was popularising German Christmas traditions, such as decorated Christmas trees. And Charles Dickens put Christmas and its traditions firmly in the public eye with the publication of “A Christmas Carol” in 1843.

Other early cards featured paper lace (embossed and pierced paper), and cards with layers that opened to reveal flowers or religious scenes.

Victorians loved exchanging cards, and this period introduced many symbols of the season which we now associate with Christmas – holly and evergreens, country churches and snowy landscapes, indoor scenes of Christmas rituals and gift giving.

The introduction of the Half Penny Post in 1894 boosted Christmas card sales, with the ‘postcard’ format being cheaper to buy and to send.

Christmas Card Facts

  • 45% of all cards sent throughout the year are Christmas cards.
  • Charities in the UK raise an estimated £50 million from Christmas card sales every year.
  • In 2001, one of Henry Cole’s first Christmas cards sold at auction for £22,000.
  • Women are responsible for 85% of card sales.

Need last-minute Christmas present inspiration? You don’t even need to head out – visit our Christmas shop at


Fiction Editor Lucy is always on the look-out for the very best short stories, poems and pocket novels. As well as sourcing enjoyable content, she enjoys working with our established contributors, encouraging new talent, and celebrating 150 years of 'Friend' fiction!