Book Collecting Guide

Collectible Christmas Cards

Many religious and cultural traditions celebrate special days during the winter holiday season. Although there are differences between them, there is a common thread among them encouraging you to reach out to loved ones to extend warm greetings and affection. For many these days, this looks like an avalanche of glittered cards that clutter up an end table or mantelpiece until they are tossed into the trash after New Year’s Day. Christmas cards are quite ephemeral, except for that special one here or there that gets tucked into the family Bible or slipped into a scrapbook for memory’s sake.

So where did the tradition of Christmas cards begin? In the early days of the postal service being established in England, Sir Henry Cole worked to make postage rates affordable for all by introducing the Penny Post. To encourage the use of the post, Cole commissioned Christmas cards from the illustrator John Callcott Horsley in 1843 and sold them at affordable prices. Sending Christmas cards to friends and family soon became a popular trend.

Prang and Mayer started to vend their holiday greeting cards in England by 1873 and in the American market in 1874. We have a few Prang cards in a lovely collection in the gallery below.

We’ve delved into the listings from Biblio booksellers to find a few particularly wonderful examples of holiday cards from various eras. Some of them were sent by some well-known people - from artists and illustrators to politicians and activists.