Unseasonal Greetings

Digital Media
December 12, 2013

Did you know that the V&A’s Word and Image Department holds a large collection of greetings cards? Browsing through these on Search the Collections can certainly get you into the holiday spirit. You will, of course, spot holly, mistletoe, beautifully decorated trees, and more than a few presents. But perhaps at Christmas time, the usual festive tropes can get a bit samey. Never fear, if you delve a little deeper and go back to the 19th century when the tradition of sending cards was in its infancy, you will find plenty of unusual yuletide variety.

People often say that Christmas is a time for children. Well, according to this card from 1885, it is a time for children to… do some laundry.

Christmas card, 1885. Museum no. B.426-1993. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

These Victorian youngsters may look happier (no laundry for them!), but they could run into trouble when that dog-sized robin crosses the threshold.

Christmas card, unknown artist, about 1860 - 1880. Musum no. E.1974-1953. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Perhaps a more elegant bird is in order this Christmas, and what could be more festive than a peacock surrounded by pink blossom?

Christmas card, 1885 - 1900. Museum no. B.462-1993. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Ok, most things are more festive than that. So here’s Santa Claus to get us all back in in the holiday spirit. St Nick may use a sleigh and reindeer to make his deliveries these days, but in the past he seems to have tried some alternative modes of transport:

Christmas card, 1890 - 1900. Museum no. B.414-1993. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

A bicycle may have been relatively new technology in the late 19th century, but Father Christmas would have had to pedal very fast to make it to every child in one night.

As time moved on and technology developed, Santa didn’t rest on his laurels. He moved with the times and upgraded from bike to car.

Christmas postcard, 1906. Museum no. B.121-1997. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

The message on this this 1906 American card also shows how ahead of his time Santa Claus can be – always with his finger on the pulse of upcoming trends. It features a charming little message which reveals that emoticons are perhaps not as new an invention as we like to think.

Christmas postcard (detail), 1906. Museum no. B.121-1997. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Hopefully these cards have provided some inspiration for your own greetings this year. Don’t forget to send them off to your loved ones in plenty of time. The last posting date for first class in the UK is Friday 20 December (unless, of course, you have a little helper to make deliveries for you)

Christmas card, 1880s. Museum no. E.2669:201-1953. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

About the author

Digital Media
December 12, 2013

Former Content Editor in the Digital Media department. I love finding interesting stories and unusual objects hidden in the V&A Collections. I blog about all things digital media, with the...

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