Make a Beatrix Potter Christmas card

Produced as part of Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature

On now until Sunday, 8 January 2023

More about this Exhibition

Spread some festive joy this season by downloading a free template to create your very own Beatrix Potter Christmas card.

Beatrix Potter remains one of the world's best-selling and best-loved children's authors, having written and illustrated 28 books, including her 23 Tales which have sold more than 100 million copies. But before she made her name in the world of publishing, Potter's first commercial success – and possibly where the idea of turning her inventions into storybooks originated – was with her designs for greetings cards.

One of her more elaborate designs is this delightful Christmas card featuring a coconut with two mice hiding inside, which you can make using our free downloadable template.

Greetings card (closed), designed by Beatrix Potter, Hildesheimer and Faulkner, 1890, colour lithograph. Linder Bequest BP.565(a), © Victoria and Albert Museum, London / courtesy of Frederick Warne and Co.
Greetings card (open), designed by Beatrix Potter, Hildesheimer and Faulkner, 1890, colour lithograph. Linder Bequest BP.565(a), © Victoria and Albert Museum, London / courtesy of Frederick Warne and Co.

You will need:

  • 2 x A4 sheets of thin card or heavyweight white paper
  • A pair of scissors
  • PVA glue and brush
  • Colour printer

Instructions

  • Download and print the Christmas card templates (PDF)
  • Cut out the front and back of the card
  • Glue the reverse sides of the front and back together
  • Fold to create the closed coconut

Note: The downloading and printing of this resource is for personal and non-commercial educational use only.

The story of Beatrix Potter's Christmas cards

For Christmas 1889, 23-year-old Beatrix Potter made some cards and slipped them under the plates at the breakfast table to see what the family’s reaction would be. They were "a five minutes wonder" and this gave Beatrix and her brother Walter an idea when, soon afterwards, they wanted some money to buy themselves a printing press as they both liked experimenting with different media.

In February 1890, Beatrix designed six cards using her pet rabbit Benjamin Bouncer for inspiration and sent them off to a publisher. Although she was prepared for potential rejections, Beatrix was still shocked when the first publisher, Marcus Ward & Co., returned the cards back immediately. The second publisher, Hildesheimer & Faulkner, sent a cheque in May 1890 for £6 and a "very civil letter under the misapprehension that I was a gentleman" asking for more cards. Beatrix made several new designs, including "two rough suggestions of more elaborate designs" and went with her uncle, Sir Henry Roscoe, to the publisher's offices to meet Mr Faulkner. After the visit she wrote in her diary: "Not one word did he say in praise of the cards" but he "grinned a little at some of the fresh sketches" and "showed a mysterious desire for more".

(Left to right:) Design for a greetings card, Beatrix Potter, probably 1890, watercolour and gouache on paper. Linder Bequest BP.1475, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London / courtesy of Frederick Warne and Co.; Greetings card, designed by Beatrix Potter, Hildesheimer and Faulkner, 1890, colour lithograph. Linder Bequest BP.569(a), © Victoria and Albert Museum, London / courtesy of Frederick Warne and Co.

Potter depicted other animals besides her rabbit Benjamin. Later in life she wrote, "I had many mouse friends in my youth. I was always catching and taming mice, the common wild ones are far more intelligent and amusing than the fancy variety". Her early drawings feature mice at least as often as rabbits.

Hildesheimer & Faulkner sent the cards to be printed in Germany using chromolithography, a technique that was well-suited to large multi-colour print runs. We don't know exactly which of her designs Potter referred to as "elaborate", but perhaps they took the form of an early design of hers featuring an autumnal theme of a nesting mouse. The roundel featuring a mouse in the nest sits within a folded outer case, with the top-most flap designed to partially conceal the mouse. This example was never made into a finished card.

Design for a greetings card (Left to right views: back, inside and complete folded card), Beatrix Potter, 1890, watercolour and pen and ink on paper. Linder Bequest BP.442(a,b), © Victoria and Albert Museum, London / courtesy of Frederick Warne and Co.

Potter mentioned in her diary that the publishers wanted her to make images reflecting seasonal changes, though this didn't stop them printing a card featuring mice inside a coconut. This effective design appears almost three-dimensional when closed. It works in a similar way to the nesting mouse design, with an upper half flap hiding the mice.

Potter's first foray into the world of commercial printing was a success and may have given her the idea of turning some of her inventions into storybooks. In her diary she remembered not being disappointed when the publisher rejected her elaborate designs, as "I have some idea of working them out into a little book some time". Two years later she began sending illustrations to the publisher Ernest Nister, including some featuring a fishing frog which appeared in Nister's Holiday Annual for 1896 and was eventually to inspire The Tale of Jeremy Fisher. At about the same time Potter began sending illustrated letters to children and one of these, dated 4 September 1893 she turned, nearly ten years later, into The Tale of Peter Rabbit, first in a private edition in 1901 and later, in December 1902, an edition published by Frederick Warne & Co.

Drawing of a frog leaping into a boat, Beatrix Potter, about 1894, published by Ernest Nister in Nister’s Holiday Annual for 1896, pen and ink and pencil on paper. Linder Bequest BP.507(b)/1, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London / courtesy of Frederick Warne and Co.
Background image: (Detail: Greetings card, designed by Beatrix Potter, Hildesheimer and Faulkner, 1890, colour lithograph. Linder Bequest BP.565(a), © Victoria and Albert Museum, London / courtesy of Frederick Warne and Co.