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The holiday season has historically been the time for people to send well-wishes to one another, as they are reminded of the family and things that they should be thankful for. The most common way to do this over the last two centuries has been through Christmas cards, as they are convenient and can share sentiments through few words and vivid images. The trend of sending cards developed as a response to the Victorian tradition of sending long holiday letters to family and friends, which had become a tiresome act for people who ran in large social circles. Today, cards are more personalized as they usually include some form of art and a holiday greeting as well as family pictures that usually show trips or significant events that have happened over the past year.
The very first printed Christmas card made was in London in 1843 by Sir Henry Cole as he wanted to avoid writing extremely long letters to his many friends. He later helped establish what is now the Post Office, and the original print made by his friend J.C. Horsley set the tone for the burgeoning industry (Hanc). The card itself had three panels that show various acts of charity on the two sides, while in the middle shows a family toasting the viewer of the holiday message. Cole’s print demonstrated the more religious and simple designs early cards would come to display, but as printing methods advanced, so did the intricacy of the artwork.
The focus on art and design with Christmas cards reflects the fact that they have never been known for being great works of literature, especially since their creation was out of avoiding writing long letters (Hanc). The usual message that the cards contain is short and relatively impersonal, messages like, “Merry Christmas”, or the more general “Happy Holidays”, or sometimes Bible verses or poems as well. However, as production of cards increased, people desired to personalize their messages more to balance between a short greeting and a full letter. So, the structure of the cards moved from a post-card type format to more of a book with a picture on the front and a blank inside where senders could write more without having to write a whole letter.
The Christmas cards I have chosen from the FSU Postcard Archive demonstrate the more classic structures and designs of early prints, which I find incredibly nostalgic and beautiful. They especially show the more American versions of Christmas cards which are more subdued and focused on nature scenes or artwork. In respect to rhetoric and composition, these postcards show the development of early American greeting cards that differ greatly from modern versions, as they represent the different cultural values and printing techniques of their time.
Hanc, John. "The History of the Christmas Card." Smithsonian Magazine. Smithsonian, 9 Dec. 2015. Web. 28 Nov. 2016.