First commercially printed Christmas card up for sale | Christmas

The first commercially printed Christmas card is up for sale – a merry Victorian-era scene that scandalised some when it first appeared in 1843.

The card, which is being sold online through a consortium run by Marvin Getman, a Boston-based dealer in rare books and manuscripts, depicts an English family toasting the recipient with glasses of red wine.

“A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You,” it reads. But for teetotallers – and there were plenty of those in the 19th century – the imagery included a bit too much holiday cheer: in the foreground, a young girl is pictured taking a sip from an adult’s glass.

That didn’t sit well at the time with the puritanical Temperance Society, which kicked up such a fuss it took three years before another Christmas card was produced.

“They were quite distressed that in this scandalous picture they had children toasting with a glass of wine along with the adults. They had a campaign to censor and suppress it,” said Justin Schiller, founder and president of Battledore, a Kingston, New York-based dealer in antiquarian books who is selling the card.

Getman said the hand-coloured lithograph is believed to have been a salesperson’s sample. Only 1,000 copies were printed and sold for a shilling apiece, and experts believe fewer than 30 have survived, he said.

The card, intended to double as a greeting for Christmas and New Year’s Day, was designed by painter and illustrator John Callcott Horsley at the suggestion of Sir Henry Cole, a British civil servant and inventor who founded the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Cole is widely credited with starting the tradition of sending holiday cards, a multimillion-dollar industry today.

It is believed to have gone on sale in the same week in December 1843 that Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol first was published.

Christie’s auction house in London also is selling one of the rare cards and says it expects the item to fetch between £5,000 and £8,000 ($6,725 to $10,800).


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