Sir Henry Cole, a civil servant, started the tradition of sending Christmas cards when in 1843, he tried an experiment to test out the new Post Office system.
The very first Christmas card was designed by the artist John Horsley. Horsley was to go on to become a Royal Academician in 1864 and was known for his admiration of the style of the Dutch Masters and his opposition to the use of nude models.
The first cards were sold for one shilling (5p). At the time, a skilled man could expect to earn around £1 per week if lucky, so the first Christmas cards were really a luxury item.
The original card caused some controversy as it had three panels, the outer two of which showed people caring for the poor and in the centre, a family having a large Christmas dinner. The contrasting fortunes were just too much to take!
The advent of the 'Penny Post' in the 1840s and the novelty of the Christmas cards came together at the right time and the custom quickly estabished itself so that by the 1860s, it was usual to send cards to one's friends and family, especially since the cost of a card had dropped to a halfpenny (in old money).
Today, every person in Britain sends, on average, around 50 Christmas cards each. That probably excludes an increasing number of people who prefer not to send cards at all, usually those who have been driven down that road by an ever-growing crop of 'corporate' cards.
Of course, if you really don't want to send Christmas cards, there are lots of other alternatives. You can donate money to your favourite charity. You can even bung your loved ones the cash you'd spend on cards.
Me? I'm looking forward to my card from the dog.
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