It wasn’t until the nineteenth century that the practice of sending cards became widespread. It was the British public servant, Henry Cole (1808-1882), who can lay claim to starting a tradition that has survived 175 years. His name may be familiar to Londoners; he served as the first director of what was to become the Victoria & Albert Museum from 1857 to 1873.
It is said that in 1843 Cole found he was too busy to send his customary Christmas letters to all his friends and acquaintances. Instead, he commissioned his friend, the artist John Callcott Horsley, to design a card for him to send. The illustration depicted three generations of a Victorian family drinking a toast to the recipient over a banner with the greeting “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you”. One thousand of the cards were made and individually hand-coloured. After Cole had sent his cards, the remaining cards were sold by his business partner Joseph Cundall at his emporium in Bond Street, for the then princely sum of one shilling each. Cole’s card proved popular, (a second batch of 1,000 also sold out). With reductions in postage costs and improvements in printing technology the sending of cards became widely popular in the 1860s and 1870s.
This mosaic of Henry Cole can be found in the Henry Cole Wing of the Victoria and Albert Museum.