As you and your family enjoy the holiday cards you’ve received this season – digital cards, handmade cards, and photos of relatives and friends – you may reflect upon how this festive tradition started. The origins of the popularity of these Christmas correspondence staples trace back to early in Queen Victoria’s reign and the first American Christmas card was printed in Albany, New York.
Queen Victoria wed German-born Prince Albert in 1840 – you can watch their romance from the beginning in the Masterpiece program Victoria, with the second season available to watch online and see the premiere of the third season on January 13 at 9pm. It was in 1848 that the Illustrated London News published a drawing of the royal family around a decorated tree, which was something Albert grew up with Germany. It was five years before the illustration that an artist was commissioned in England to design a card for Christmas.
Around this time across the pond in New York State, in December 1842, Albany merchant Richard H. Pease used a woodcut image of Santa Claus to advertise for his Great Variety Store. This was published in the Albany Evening Journal. It was sometime between 1847 and 1850 that Pease printed the first Christmas card in America. It was a lithograph showing a family surrounded by holiday gifts, food and drink with “To” and “From” at the bottom of the image, according to the Albany Institute of History and Art.
From drawings and lithographs to e-cards and colorful cards of puppies in Santa hats, the holiday card has evolved but the spirit of giving, friendship, and holiday cheer remain today.
You can binge watch the first two seasons anytime, anywhere online.
America’s First Christmas Card
Designed by Elisa Forbes
Printed and published by Richard H. Pease, Albany, New York
Lithograph on paper
Courtesy of the Manchester Metropolitan University Special Collections