Seasonal Greetings

Christmas card

Extract from an early Christmas card design [MS 4078/8/2]

In a little book called Christmastide Lore by Rose Sydenham Dugdale, printed in Birmingham in 1937, and delightfully illustrated by Ivy Anne Ellis, is the sentence: ‘Christmas cards were first thought of by W.C.T. Dobson, head of a school of design in Birmingham who wished to send an unusual greeting to a friend in 1844.’

A little research suggests that the first Christmas card was actually sent in 1843, when Sir Henry Cole (1808-1882), founding director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, asked artist J. C. Horsley (1817-1903) of the Royal Academy to design a card with a seasonal message he could send to his many friends.

Lempriere's Christmas Card

Lempriere’s personalised Christmas card, 1908 [MS 1575/3/7/2/1]

William Charles Thomas Dobson (1817-1898), artist, had entered the Royal Academy schools in 1836 and was encouraged by the first president of the National Gallery, Charles Lock Eastlake. In 1842 Dobson was appointed to the School of Design recently established in Somerset House and the following year he took up the position of headmaster of the Government School of Design in Birmingham. He may have sent a Christmas sketch to friends in 1844; regrettably, I have not been able to find any Christmas sketches or cards designed by him. Dobson retired from Birmingham two years later to pursue his artistic training in Italy.

Christmas Cat

Card from Lucy Hawynes’ scrapbook [CC5/137]

The cards illustrated here are from three collections:
MS 2075
Papers of Birmingham Balloonist George Phillip Lempriere (1854-1949)
MS 4078 Personal papers of the Hemming, Twigg, and Pemberton families
CC5/137 Scrapbook of Miss Lucy Hawynes, a member of the Erdington Congregational Church in the 19th century.

The first Christmas card can be seen on the website for the V&A:

A particularly splendid collection of cards can be seen at the website for Kings College: Aberdeen:

Another great website on the subject:

Fiona Tait

Christmas Card


2 responses to “Seasonal Greetings

  1. I love the Lempriere card. How lovely to have Champagne and pudding falling from the sky! Kathryn

  2. Pingback: Carolling in the collections | The Iron Room

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