Antique victorian greeting cards

Antique victorian greeting cards DEFAULT

In the 19th century, before festive Christmas cards became the norm, Victorians put a darkly humorous and twisted spin on their seasonal greetings. Some of the more popular subjects included anthropomorphic frogs, bloodthirsty snowmen and dead birds.

May yours be a joyful Christmas, reads one card from the late s, along with an illustration of a dead robin. Another card shows an elderly couple laughing maniacally as they lean out a second-story window and dump water onto a group of carolers below. Wishing you a jolly Christmas, it says beneath the image.

Morality and a strict code of social conduct embodied the time period of Queen Victoria&#x;s reign (), but the Victorians still had their fair share of questionable practices. They thought nothing of posing with the dead or robbing graves and selling the bodies. Their holiday customs evolved with just as much curiosity. Clowns, insects and even the Devil himself had a place in early holiday fanfare.

In the 19th century, the iconography of Christmas had not been fully developed as it is now, says Penne Restad, a lecturer in American history at the University of Texas in Austin and the author of Christmas in America.

Printing and Postage Reforms Trigger Christmas Card Tradition

Christmas didn&#x;t gain momentum until the mids. In , the same year that English author Charles Dickens created A Christmas Carol, prominent English educator and society member, Sir Henry Cole, commissioned the first Christmas card. Even with an impressive print run of 1, cards (of which 21 exist today), full-fledged manufacturing remained only a sideline to the more established trade in playing cards, notepaper and envelopes, needle-box and linen labels and valentines, explains Samantha Bradbeer, archivist and historian for Hallmark Cards, Inc. It took several decades for the exchange of holiday greetings to catch on, both in England and the United States.

Several factors coincided to produce a broad acceptance of greeting cards as a popular commodity, says Bradbeer, including a higher literacy rate and new consumerism stemming from increasing levels of discretionary income. But postal reform and advances in printing technologies were the two factors that really pushed Christmas cards into the mainstream.

The Postage Act of helped regulate British postage rates and democratize mail delivery. A year later, with the passage of the Uniform Penny Post law, anyone in England could send something in the mail for just one penny. Then, in October , right before the holiday season, the British government introduced the halfpenny, making mail service affordable for nearly all levels of society. Standardized rates and delivery soon followed in America.

At the same time, wood cuts and other cumbersome printing processes gave way to the mass production of images. The first mass printing of Christmas cards occurred in the s. By , when printing could be done for as little as a few pennies per dozen, hundreds of European card manufacturers were producing cards to sell at home and to the American public. German immigrant Louis Prang is credited with popularizing the Christmas card in the United States through his Boston lithography business.

READ MORE: How 25 Christmas Traditions Got Their Start

Fringe Cards Featured Dark and Bizarre Imagery



As the popularity of Christmas cards grew, Victorians demanded more novelty. By , unique and even bizarre cards with silk fringe, glittered attachments and mechanical movements were popular, but the more common Christmas card motifs related to flora and fauna, seasonal vignettes and landscapes, Bradbeer says.

Among the bizarre were a large collection of dark and outlandish designs. An army of black ants is shown attacking an army of red ants on one holiday greeting with the caption, The compliments of the season, printed on a tiny flag. Sullen and brooding children, random lobsters and Christmas pudding with human elements made frequent appearances on Christmas cards printed in the late s and early s.

But why did Victorians exchange such eccentric holiday cards, and what do they mean?

I think it&#x;s important to understand that &#x;festive&#x; cards as we know them now are very much a 20th-century phenomena, says Katie Brown, assistant curator of social history at York Castle Museum. According to Brown, although some of the history is lost, designs were made to serve as conversation pieces as much as they were made to celebrate the season. Many Victorian Christmas cards became parlor art or people added them to their scrapbook collections.

Greeting cards, in general, are linked socially, economically and politically to the culture, period and place of their origin and use. Sentiments and designs that may seem unusual today were often considered signs of good fortune, while others poked fun at superstitions, says Bradbeer.

Folk customs influenced the design of many Victorian Christmas cards. In British folklore, for example, robins and wrens are considered sacred species. John Grossman, author of Christmas Curiosities: Old, Dark and Forgotten Christmas, writes that images of these dead birds on Christmas cards may have been bound to elicit Victorian sympathy and may reference common stories of poor children freezing to death at Christmas.

I believe the cultural interest in fairies, secret places and strange creatures that developed, maybe beginning with seances, elves and so on, in the Victorian era may have something to do with some of the fantastical Christmas cards, says Restad.

St. Nicholas Teams Up With the Devil

An English legend popular during the Victorian era said that St. Nicholas recruited the Devil to help with his deliveries. Together, they determined which children had been naughty or nice. The Devil, who appeared under various guises, kidnapped the disobedient kids and beat them with a stick. Santa is the creepy antihero on a variety of Victorian-era holiday cards, where he can be seen peeking through windows and spying on children. The Devil is disguised as Krampus on some, making off on sleds and in automobiles with the children deemed naughty.

READ MORE: Meet Krampus: The Christmas Devil Who Punishes the Naughty

Today, despite the rise of electronic communication and social media, billions of Christmas cards are bought and exchanged around the world each year. 

As artifacts of popular culture revealing graphic, literary and social trends, they provide both visual pleasure and important historic information, says Bradbeer, even when that information is symbolized by dead birds. 


If you think holidays are weird these days, then you clearly haven't seen these 19th-century Victorian Era Christmas cards that were just as creepy as those times themselves. Bored Panda has gone through an expansive TuckDB Ephemera's vintage Holiday greetings postcard collection to gather some of the most bizarre postcards ever made. From frogs stabbing each other to Krampus (a half-goat, half-daemon) entertaining the ladies in the best Victorian Era fashion manner Yeah, there isn't a more random way to say 'Merry Christmas' to someone these days, but when you think of it, these seasons greetings actually work as a time machine and reveal the relevant topics of those days.

After looking at these Christmas cards, you might be interested to know why exactly was the Victorian Era so creepy, and while there aren't any precise answers to that, we have managed to find some pretty good clues as to why. For starters, the life expectancy in the Victorian Era England was incredibly low as the middle class got around 45 years to live, workers only half of that and children were lucky to survive their 5th birthdays. Because of that, everyday funeral processions were nothing out of the ordinary, and you couldn't scare any Victorian with dying or all the creepiness that comes with it. On top of the high mortality, Victorian Era people were very sexually repressed and confused. So much so, that women were not allowed to ride horses the same way as men, so as not to arouse any feminine passions. On the other hand, male Victorians were so horny, that curved table legs were seen as sexual and were often covered with special cloths. So there you go, a mix of death fascination and sexual frustration is probably what made the Victorian Era as creepy as it was.

Which one of these terrifying greeting cards would like to find in your mailbox to raise your Christmas spirit? Vote below! (h/t)

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Come January, Christmas cards usually go straight from the mantel to the trash, but not all season's greetings count as clutter. Certain kinds of correspondence can in fact be sold for cold, hard cash.

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The market for Christmas collectibles is actually on the rise, according to Terry Kovel, co-author of the Kovels' Antiques & Collectibles Price Guide. "All of the holidays have gotten more popular in collecting," she tells "And the most popular one obviously is Christmas." Vintage cards in good condition can fetch about $10 to $50 apiece, she says, but particularly valuable ones can shoot up into the three- or even four-figure range.

If you stumble upon a big box of holiday cards at an estate sale, flea market, or even your own attic, here's what to look for in terms of finding the big bucks.

How old is the card?

The Christmas card tradition first started in the Victorian era, when the introduction of the Penny Post in England made letter writing very popular — and a somewhat time-consuming effort for prominent society member Henry Cole, according to

As not answering his stack of correspondence appeared impolite, the London socialite decided to speed up the task by enlisting his friend, artist J.C. Horsley, to design a festive card with a fill-in-the-blank salutation in The first-ever Christmas card soon inspired copycats, with holiday greetings taking off both in Britain and the United States by the end of the century.

Hulton ArchiveGetty Images

It's no surprise then that some of the most valuable cards today are also the oldest.

"Christmas cards are something called emphera, so they were designed to be used for only a short time," Richard Davies, Head of Content for online collectibles marketplace, tells"The older the postcard, the less likely it is to have survived, so pres postcards are hard to find."

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Some cards will have the year printed on the front or the back, but motifs can also help date the card. "If they look Victorian, they usually are Victorian," Kovel says. Popular themes of the era included flowers, robins, and personified animals in general.

What is the card's artistic value?

"When you and I go and buy a box of Christmas cards, we buy mass-produced ones," Davies says. "But over the years there are examples of Christmas cards that have been one-offs or printed in a very small print run created by an artist of significance."

Prominent Victorian artist Kate Greenaway designed a number of holiday cards and inspired a slew of competitors. In later years, companies even commissioned big names like Salvador Dalí, Grandma Moses, and Norman Rockwell for designs. More recent favorites included illustrators Tasha Tudor and Tyrus Wong.

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But even if you don't recognize an artist's name, certain features command more market value, like novelty cards with moving or folding parts. One trendy kind incorporated transparent paper, so when you held the card up to the light you could see brightness coming through building windows and such.

Does the card depict a historic event or popular character?

Kovel also advises looking out for cards that tell a history, such as content alluding to a war or topical event, or even a popular toy of the time. Evidence pointing to a specific date can add to the card's provenance.

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Recognizable cartoon figures like Snoopy, Mickey Mouse, and Felix the Cat also have a specific market, and then there's the big guy himself. Santa's look and demeanor has changed a lot over the years, but he's remained popular among buyers. Before Coca-Cola helped popularize our notion of Santa today, he often wore a green coat, or had elfish features instead more jolly ones.

What condition is the card in?

Both Kovel and Davies note that condition matters now more than ever, as buyers frequently demand near-mint status. The ideal scenario is a card that's sat forgotten (and protected) in box for years, as it's less like to have rips, tears, fading, or other damage.

To keep your own collection safe, Kovel advises using museum framing to display cards as it will better preserve the paper.

Is the card signed by a celebrity?

The real jackpot is finding a card with a famous person's signature, which will attract buyers who follow particular authors or artists or specialize in presidential or film memorabilia.

Make sure it's the real deal before paying any big bucks though. "Some are signed and some are just printed," Kovel says. "You've just got to make sure it’s an honest-to-God signature for the autograph people."

One group of especially prolific Christmas card writers is the Queen and her descendants. "The royal family sends a lot of Christmas cards," Davies shares. "They have many people to thank at the end of the year — friends, staff, household members, and so forth — and they are signed and have gradually found their way onto the market."


While not many of us have royal connections, it's always possible an ancestor or mutual friend did. "Maybe your grandfather knew someone of significance all those years ago, maybe they worked on a film set, knew an author, worked in publishing," Davies says. "The key bit that could add value is the signature. Everyone loves the signatures."

Valuable Christmas Cards on eBay Right Now

Vintage Christmas Card With Girl Playing Piano


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Kate Greenaway Christmas Greeting Card


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Prince Charles's Christmas Card


Vintage Victorian Couple Greeting Card


Queen Elizabeth's Christmas Card


s Hatchback Station Wagon Card


Caroline PicardHealth EditorCaroline is the Health Editor at covering nutrition, fitness, wellness, and other lifestyle news.

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Andrew McCaul

In , the first Christmas card was commercially manufactured by John Callcott Horsley in England. By the late s, many English manufacturers were producing Christmas cards, including H. Rothe, De La Rue & Co., and Benjamin Sulman. This Hildesheimer & Faulkner card was inspired by the book Language of Flowers,a volume that served as a source for card makers and that defined the virtues associated with various flowers. The daffodil suggests respect, the fern sincerity, ivy fidelity, and the tulip, alas, hopeless love. Some of these cards were signed by the artisan.

Today, vintage Victorian Christmas cards are mostly found used, with handwritten addresses and greetings. Cards of the era were typically illustrated with religious motifs or scenes of still lifes, nature, and people enjoying a winter day. Condition is important, since many in the market are torn or faded from handling and age. According to Nancy Rosin, a collector who specializes in Victorian cards, examples can start as low as $15 and can be found on the Internet, and in antiques shops and shows. *The estimates provided are preliminary only and subject to change based on firsthand inspection and further research. Appraisal prices refer to an item's fair market value, or what one might expect to pay for an object of similar age, size, color, and condition at auction.

This circa chromolithographed paper Christmas card trimmed with blue silk fringe was likely made by Hildesheimer & Faulkner in London, England. It is in good condition, with its fringe intact. Victorian Christmas cards were made on high-quality paper and hand colored. They were considered expensive gifts to send.

Valued at: $35

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Victorian greeting cards antique

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Vintage Christmas Cards 8 Ways Video DIY! Bo Bunny + Prima Marketing + Fabric Santa Embellishments

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