Christmas in the Factory

The countdown has begun. The tree is up (come in to the Museum and see it, it’s incredible), the Christmas scones are available in the staff canteen and the Christmas cards are being handed around the office.

The cards.

The V&A holds the national designated collection of greeting cards. Part of this is a sterling collection of Christmas cards, a few of which I’m going to share with you today.

Reproduction of the first Christmas card, commissed by Sir Henry Cole, and designed by John Callcott Horsley

Greeting card, John Callcott Horsley, 1945, Museum no. E.1993-1953. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Where better to start than with the first Christmas card, not just in the Museum’s collection, but ever? This card is a reproduction of an 1843 card, commissioned by Sir Henry Cole, the Museum’s first director. It combines two traditional Christmas themes. The central illustration shows three generations of a family raising a toast to the recipient of the card, and the outer, less colourful images show acts of charity, and giving to the poor.

Christmas card, designed by Selwyn Image for Herbert Hodge, ca. 1900

Greeting card, Selwyn Image, ca. 1900, Museum no. E.3355-1931. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

This card from the early 1930s is a little different from the usual folding cards we see today. Designed as part of a series for Harold Hodge, a well-off London gentleman, the simple woodcut design highlights the religious element to Christmas, as the Virgin Mary (denoted by her blue and red dress, and halo) kindles her own fire, whilst a robin redbreast rests on a branch behind her.

A series of 4 wartime Christmas cards, made in Britain, 1914-1915

Greeting card, Anon, 1914, Museum no. E.263-1952. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

As we approach the centenary of World War One, it seems only right to include a Christmas card from the period. Popular feeling was that the war would be ‘over by Christmas’. It must have come as quite a shock to families to not have their sons and husbands at home with them. The card in the top left corner, from 1914 particularly  illustrates how Christmas greetings took a very patriotic twist, with the slogan ‘For Freedom, Hearth and Home’ below the crossed Union Flag and St George’s Ensign (symbolising the army and the navy respectively).

Christmas card, made in England, ca. 1860-1880, museum no. E.1925-1953

Greeting card, Anon, ca. 1860-1880, Museum no. E.1925-1953. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

To finish, a delightful round-up of everything Christmassy. This mid-nineteenth century card takes a number of symbols and unites them in a colourful riot of fun, tradition and techniques. We have a Christmas tree, decorated with a church, what looks like a lebkuchen (Bake Off fans among you will be able to confirm), an angel, and two children, the boy being quite the smooth operator and holding up some mistletoe, the girl holding what I hope is the winning half of a Christmas cracker. The card is a colour lithograph on fabric, mounted onto paper lace, combining materials and techniques to create a fun, unique card.

You can see the rest of the Museum’s Christmas card collection here.

From all of us at the Factory, have a very Merry Christmas!

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