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Old Christmas Cards

Postmuseum has over 10,000 different Christmas cards in its large collections, many from their heyday around the turn of the last century.  We have selected 78 Christmas cards by unknown artists.  They are good examples of beautiful and popular Christmas cards sent in large quantities at that time.

The first Christmas card was sent in England in the 1840s.  1,000 cards were printed and these were coloured in by hand.  It was both a Christmas and a New Year card.  At that time, printing techniques had not developed enough to make it possible to mass produce beautiful cards in colour.

In Sweden, the first Christmas cards were sent in the 1880s.  Both the inspiration and the cards came to Sweden from Denmark and Germany.  Other greetings such as “A Peaceful Christmas”, “A Joyful Christmas” and “Happy Christmas” competed with the now established greeting “Merry Christmas”.

To begin with, everybody handed out their own Christmas cards, but soon the Post Office took over the distribution.  Writing Christmas cards was at first an upper class phenomenon that later spread down through society.  After the 1897 World’s Fair in Stockholm, writing picture postcards became such a rage that it is said that the grand new main post office building in Vasagatan in Stockholm, completed in 1903, was paid for by the income from postage on picture postcards.

Christmas cards are said to have resulted both in Father Christmas taking the place of the Christmas billy-goat and in Christmas trees being introduced into Swedish homes.  At the turn of the century, Father Christmas was not always a tall man.  Instead there were more little Christmas elves.  They were often shown with a bowl of porridge, traditionally the elf’s annual reward. The peevish little old man would soon grow into the jovial tall man whom we know today as Father Christmas.

The Christmas tree on the cards from the turn of the century was often a small tree to have on a table. As often as the tree was just standing there decorated, it could also be carried by Christmas elves, angels or children.  The many children and pigs on the cards are hardly surprising.  Angels were decidedly more popular around the turn of the last century than today.  However, what surprises us now are the flower motifs, sometimes even verdant meadows.

The improved printing technique and the cheap postage made Christmas cards attractive and available to all. It can also be added that industrialisation, which resulted in people moving around more, led to their making friends and acquaintances outside the parish and district.

Since the turn of the century, there have now and then been campaigns against sending Christmas cards.  However, this has not reduced the number of Christmas cards sent.  The peak was reached in 1996 when 62 million Christmas cards were sent in Sweden.  Since then, the number has gone down, mainly because of the increased use of electronic messages.  In 2002, 48.5 million Christmas cards were sent.

Angel and children