Christmas at the National Art Library

The V&A is a wonderful place to visit at Christmas, with lots of festive displays, activities, and events for all!  One display that has just opened is Season’s Greetings: Victorian Christmas cards in Room 108, which features amongst other items the ‘first Christmas card’ commissioned by Henry Cole and designed by the artist John Callcott Horsley.

Image: The first Christmas card, commissioned by Henry Cole and designed by John Callcott Horsley, 1843 Lithograph coloured by hand. Museum number L.3293-1987 (c) Victoria and Albert Museum

The first Christmas card, commissioned by Henry Cole and designed by John Callcott Horsley, 1843
Lithograph coloured by hand.
Museum number L.3293-1987 (c) Victoria and Albert Museum

The card is part of the collection of the National Art Library. For the duration of the display anyone interested in further Christmas cards can drop into the Library and ask to see the ‘Christmas Resource Box’. We also have a range of Christmas cards in our Jobbing Printing Collection. The items have not been individually catalogued but a handlist is available to help you find the era and examples you may wish to see.

We have previously written about the National Art Library’s ‘Christmas’ collections in what the Victorians read at Christmas. However, Christmas is represented in many different aspects of the NAL’s collections right up to the present day, from Christmas editions of comics and graphic novels, through the tempting contents of the Christmas catalogues of the large department stores in our trade literature collection, to numerous editions of arguably the best known Christmas story, A Christmas Carol held amongst our collection of Charles Dickens material.

Frontispiece from A Christmas Carol : In Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas; by Charles Dickens (1812 - 70), with illustrations by John Leech (1817 - 64); published by Chapman & Hall; English (London); 1843.

Frontispiece from A Christmas Carol : In Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas;
by Charles Dickens (1812 – 70), with illustrations by John Leech (1817 – 64); published by Chapman & Hall;
English (London);
1843. (c) Victoria and Albert Museum

For further reading on the history of Christmas traditions, we have put together the following selected list (links are provided to those available on request in the NAL or where available in full text online):

Allingham, Philip, V (2009) Dickens “the man who invented Christmas”. The Victorian Web, accessed 06.12.16

Buday, Gyhorgy (1954) The history of the Christmas card. London: Rockcliff.

Carter, Simon (1997) Christmas past, Christmas present: four hundred years of English seasonal customs 1600-2000. London: Geffrye Museum.

Chase, Ernest Dudley (1971) The romance of greeting cards: an historical account of the origin, evolution and development of the Christmas card, Valentine and other forms of printed greeting.  Detroit: Tower Books.

Cobban, Alex (c.1986) Charles Dickens and Christmas customs: the first Christmas card. Brentwood: Discovering London.

Hervey, Thomas Kibble (1888) The book of Christmas: descriptive of the customs, ceremonies, traditions, superstitions, fun, feeling & festivities of the Christmas season. London: Frederick Warne.

Hillier, Bevis (1982)  Greetings from Christmas past. London: Herbert Press.

Lalumia, Christine (2001) Scrooge and Albert : Christmas in the 1840s. History Today, December, p.23-29.

Pasierbska, Halina (1987) Spirit of Christmas. London: Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood.

Pimlott, J.A.R (1978) The Englishman’s Christmas : a social history.   Hassocks: The Harvester Press.

Schlicke, Paul (ed.)(1999) Oxford reader’s companion to Dickens. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Snyder, Phillip V.(1977) The Christmas tree book: the history of the Christmas tree and antique Christmas tree ornaments. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

White, Gleeson (1895) Christmas cards and their chief designers. London: Studio.

(1860) A Victorian Christmas – celebrating a 19th C. holiday. Godey’s Ladys Book, Victoriana Magazine, accessed 06.12.16.

If you would like to come and consult any of the Library’s collections over the festive period, please see our Christmas opening times: Visiting the National Art Library.

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