The Pioneer of Corporate Christmas Cards

John Calcott Horsley was an English narrative painter living in London from 1817 to 1903. Some of his better known commissions are two frescoes, painted in the Houses of Parliament and most notably, the holiday card his friend Sir Henry Cole asked him to paint. His friendship with Horsley came from their shared enthusiasm for art and working together to organize The Great Exhibition in 1851.

In 1943 Cole decided that he would surprise his friends with a novel and colorful holiday card at Christmas time instead of the usual Christmas letter. At that time letters were time consuming to write and were hand delivered. Cole’s idea meant that from the lithograph John painted, personalized holiday cards could be printed and mailed in pre-printed penny post envelopes. You could say it was the first form of corporate Christmas cards.

The card measured 5-1/8 by 3-1/4 inches. It was printed in a dark sepia ink and hand colored.  The design is framed by a trellis of vines forming three panels. The side panels depict figures representing two of the acts of charity, “feeding the hungry” and “clothing the naked.” In the center is a picture of a family party, including three generations, from grandparents to grandchildren, drinking wine. Below is the greeting, “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You.”

1st Business Christmas Card
Within ten years, Christmas cards were the rage of England. Of the 1,000 original personalized Christmas cards printed, only 12 are known to still exist. This card came to be known as the first commercial Christmas and New Year’s card.