Echoes of the past: How far back does the Christmas card date

The 1904 Christmas card from Henry Sugden
The 1904 Christmas card from Henry Sugden

I received my first Christmas card two days into December from an old colleague from work. He should have received mine by now via the postal system.

Now there is a thought, the Christmas post. I was presenting a reminiscence presentation to a group of residents at a residential home in York a couple of weeks ago and the question of Christmas cards came up. I asked them if they still sent out as many cards as they used to do. Many did, but had them delivered by relatives and friends. It was the price of stamps that put the dampers on posting them as they used to. This was the opening to my story about the origins of Christmas cards.

Christmas cards date back to 1843 when Sir Henry Cole, a civil servant who helped to set up the penny post gave thought to how it could be better used by the general public. Sir Henry took his idea of a Christmas card to an artist friend John Horsley and between them the first Christmas cards were created. Some of the early cards have been sold in recent times at auction with one winning bid reaching £22,500.

Our featured photograph this week is the oldest Christmas card I have, dating back to 1904. The central scene on the card shows the old Toll House on Wakefield Road opposite the Corn Mill. Sadly it is worth very little, but a very interesting piece of local history. This particular Christmas card was sent with the compliments of Henry Sugden and his wife at the turn of the century to Mrs Stott of ‘Elm Wood Villa’, Bradford Road and shown as having been through the post at 11.15am December 23rd - Mr Sugden was leaving it a bit late.

This was just four years after the new post office in Park Street was opened. On the day the new post office opened there were 18 wall-boxes and 103 collections each day, and additional post offices had been opened in many of the surrounding communities.

Has the number of Christmas cards gone down as the postage has gone up ? The Greeting Card Association figures for 2015 estimate 900 million Christmas cards were sold in boxes and packs worth around £200m, as well as millions of cards bought from online operators. Last year the UK public spent more on all greeting cards than ever before – taking the market value up to a value of £1.7 billion. The total retail value of single cards sales in the UK stood at £1.5 billion in 2015, with 880 million single cards being sold in this period. When compared with 2014, value is up 5%.

Greeting cards of all kinds are obviously still big business - some of those old ones you have tucked away in the dark corners of cupboards I should keep them - you never know what a collector might pay you for the right ones....