The Lougheeds were avid Christmas Card senders – you can see a few of their yearly holiday cards down in the Ballroom exhibition area, including some featuring photographs of the House, the garden, and even the family’s idyllic Banff residence, which they called “Restinghere.” As it turns out, people had been pestering each other with XMAS GREETINGS! for almost a hundred years before these particular cards were ever made! But how did we get here?
In 1843, Sir Henry Cole, first director of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, had a problem. Sir Cole didn’t just like holiday mail; he loved the post system so much that he had helped create the Uniform Penny Post, a crown corporation which monopolized the British postal system, allowing any British citizen to send mail anywhere in Great Britain and Ireland for a penny (est. between 1-5 modern GBP, or $1.69-8.47 CAD). Every holiday season, Cole was positively drowned in letters bearing Soppy Season’s Greetings – far too many to reply to. But on this particular year, he decided to take control the only way a Victorian Gentlemen knew how to, and mechanize the process!
Cole’s solution was to commission illustrator John Callcott Horsley to create a seasonal greeting card in dimensions that could be easily mailed. The design featured three generations of Coles raising a punch toast (the original holiday family photo, you might say), accompanied by the words “A MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU,” with extra space for a brief customized greeting for each recipient. Using new chromolithographic processes, Sir Cole had 1000 colour post cards created, which he then used to respond to his mountains of seasonal mail. Ever the shrewd business man, he then sold the remaining cards for the (very steep) price of a shilling apiece.
Within a few years, scores of imitators flooded the market, driving the price down to the point where Christmas cards became an affordable working-class tradition. In November, 2001, one of Cole’s original cards, of which only a dozen are known to survive, became the most valuable postcard ever sold at auction, claiming £22,500 ($38,123 CAD). – Adam Sarjeant, Admissions Assistant