Will you be sending out Christmas cards this year? You’re certainly not alone. According to the Greeting Card Association (and who should know better?) there are around 1.6 billion Christmas cards sold every year. That far outpaces Valentine’s Day with only 145 million cards sold. The first official post office in America was created in 1792 and as any school kid will tell you, Benjamin Franklin was our first official Postmaster General. Even though they were sending letters just after the Revolutionary War, it would take close to another hundred years before Christmas Cards will being made and sent in America. Here’s how it all unfolded:
Sir Henry Cole was a British civil servant knocking about fixing things like education setting up museum exhibitions. Back then, the tradition was to send out Christmas greetings in the form of a letter. However, Sir Henry had such a long list of recipients that he wanted to try something else lest he be writing out letters for a fortnight. He asked his friend John Callcott Horsley to draw up a Christmas greeting on a card. It was three panels that featured a happy family celebrating Christmas in the middle. On the sides, were depictions of folks helping the needy. Perfect holiday message. Sir Henry order over 2,000 of these cards and out they went. The year was 1843 and this is the first accepted incident of a Christmas card being sent in the post.
Along Comes Prang
By 1873, this idea of sending Christmas cards was gaining in popularity. The printing firm of Prang and Mayer were mass-producing cards and finally brought them to America. It only took a few short years before Prang was printing over five million cards. Quite a sum for a nation that was only 100 years old at the time. Sadly, cheap imitations of his beautifully crafted lithographs began flooding the market and at a much lower price. This drove him out of the business.
Along Comes Hallmark
The Christmas card business was going steady at the turn of the century. In 1913, Joyce Hall and her brother Rollie Hall started selling their own line of Christmas cards. Things really took off for the Halls with the outbreak of WWI. Many families and friends wanted to send greetings to the boys over there and the Christmas card designs incorporated patriotic themes for the duration of the war. Thus, the greeting card giant Hallmark came into being and they haven’t slowed down one bit.
The White House Card
For the record, the first President to issue an official White House Christmas card was FDR. Before that, Presidents sent out written statements of holiday warm wishes. You would think they all would have tossed a little extra business to the Post Office.
By the way, that very first Christmas card was sold at auction back in 2001 and fetched over $22,000. Not bad for a card that was sold for a penny!