The inspiration for the modern Christmas card may have initially come from handwritten holiday letters English schoolchildren created for their families during the 18th century. These greetings were often written on paper bearing preprinted holiday borders, giving them a more festive air, but it wasn't until the mid-19th century that modern printing techniques and the introduction of cheap postage in England made printed Christmas Cards practical. In 1843, one enterprising Englishman recognized the opportunity presented by these developments. His name was Sir Henry Cole.
Born in 1808, Cole was a British civil servant, patron of the arts, and educator, and it is he who is credited with producing the first commercial Christmas card. According to some sources, Cole felt he was too busy to write holiday letters to his friends and family in 1840 and decided instead to engage an illustrator named John Calcott Horsely to design a printed Christmas card for him. The card was so well received that three years later, in 1843, Sir Henry had an additional 1,000 cards printed and placed on sale at a price of one shilling apiece.
Commercially printed Christmas cards quickly became very popular in England, and by 1863 they were being advertised in the "Illustrated London News." In fact, Christmas cards became so popular that by 1878, as many as four million cards were sent in England alone.
(Information obtained from the December 2008/January 2009 issue of "The Elks Magazine.")