Holiday Cards: A Brief History

Did you know that December 9th is known as “Christmas Card Day” to honor the anniversary of the first commercially sold holiday card? We found this article by John Hanc to be very helpful in its thorough account of the history of holiday cards.

During the 1800s in England, the British postal service introduced the “Penny Post” system which allowed people to send a letter anywhere in the country by affixing a penny stamp to the envelope. Sir Henry Cole, prominent patron of the arts and founder of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, found it difficult to keep up with the piles of mail that he would receive during the holiday season.

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Sir Cole’s first Christmas Card

Cole hit on an ingenious idea [in 1843]. He approached an artist friend, J.C. Horsley, and asked him to design an idea that Cole had sketched out in his mind. Cole then took Horsley’s illustration—a triptych showing a family at table celebrating the holiday flanked by images of people helping the poor—and had a thousand copies made by a London printer. The image was printed on a piece of stiff cardboard 5 1/8 x 3 1/4 inches in size. At the top of each was the salutation, “TO:_____” allowing Cole to personalize his responses, which included the generic greeting “A Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year To You.”

Many of Cole’s Victorian aristocratic contemporaries started to send out their own Christmas cards in the following years, and the trend reached The United States several decades later. The custom of sending holiday cards quickly became an integral part of the season, and people would line up at card shops in order to catch a glimpse of the newest designs for that year.

Dempsey & Carroll’s founding in 1878 coincided with the recent boom in popularity for Holiday Cards. In our 1880 book The Art of Correspondence, Messrs. Dempsey & Carroll published the press release to announce their new holiday collections.

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We have imported the most elegant Christmas Cards ever brought to this city. We call your attention to the fact that WE SHALL OPEN ABOUT DECEMBER FIRST an assortment of fine Christmas Cards excelling anything ever offered. LAST SEASON A GREAT NUMBER OF OUR PATRONS were disappointed that they purchased elsewhere before seeing ours; stating that ours were the handsomest they had seen. Please call early to avoid the crush that delay occasions.

138 years later, we still take great pride in unveiling our new designs for the holiday season. In modern times, however, our new collections are usually done with production by the end of June and are on display for the press by mid-July. Many of our clients are already looking to order their Holiday cards by early fall so as not to feel rushed in December.

We’ve expanded upon our offerings in recent years by combining multiple printing techniques for many of our new holiday collections. Our commitment to providing the highest quality of craftsmanship to our clients remains strong as we continue to creative beautiful designs for 2017 and beyond.

Though technology has greatly changed since Sir Cole’s first Christmas card in 1843, the joy of sending holiday cards to family and friends is a feeling that transcends time.

138 Years of Dempsey & Carroll

As we approach our 138th anniversary on August 28th, we look to our heritage and how we have carried on the tradition started by John Dempsey & George Carroll in 1878. From our first location in Union Square, to our current home on the Upper East Side, we have proudly stayed close to our New York City roots as we continue to create the highest quality of hand-engraved paper goods. The past few months have been exciting as we have ushered in new collections.

This spring, we launched our collaboration with FORM Design studio, a firm which “strives to be an arbiter of taste and holistic living, blending the line between what is beautiful and what sustains”. The unique pieces for this line were created with mixed media and inspiration from the Earth’s natural beauty.

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Pieces from our collaboration with FORM

This summer, we launched new lines from our continued partnership with F. Schumacher. It has been an honor to work with this storied brand as we combine our luxurious paper with the iconic designs of Schumacher’s fabrics. The Lansdale and Zanzibar collections have expanded our offerings to include matching journals and coasters to the boxed sets of correspondence cards. We also launched four bespoke lines in addition to the boxed products so that our clients can add new looks to their personal paper wardrobes.

 

We have seen our collaboration with Hendrick’s Gin come to life this month with correspondence cards, coasters, hang tags, and a 2017 calendar. Hendrick’s Gin is produced in the small seaside village of Girvan, Scotland using a blend of spirits from two different antique stills. Our process of engraving paper has remained virtually unchanged since our founding and we continue to use the same equipment as we have since the 1800s. Both of our brands celebrate tradition while forging through the 21st century.

August has also seen the launch of our new lines with John Derian. Fabricated in his New York City Studio, Derian uses decoupage as a unique way to bring life to an assortment of home furnishings. Our new collections pair classic Dempsey & Carroll motifs with extraordinary designs from Derian’s archives.

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John Derian Blue Coral

The excitement of our new collections reminds us to look to our history for inspiration. Dempsey & Carroll has transcended two centuries of incredible changes in the world. We have seen the leaps of technology and the rise of the digital age. As we head into the next 138 years, we look to one of our favorite quotes about why we continue our legacy of facilitating gracious living:

“The love of elegance and exquisite finish in stationery is no new love, but elegance and finish are not in themselves artistic, they are simply the last result of mere mechanical execution. We take especial pleasure, therefore, in calling attention to the work of Messrs. Dempsey & Carroll, who have earned for themselves the honourable designation of “Art Stationers.”

The Home Journal (Town & Country), 1879

We are thankful for our loyal clientele, as well as all of the extraordinary people who have come before us in building this brand. Cheers to 138 years of Dempsey & Carroll!

The History of the Calling Card

To honor our Annual Calling Card Event,  we wanted to share the history of the calling card and how its purposes have evolved over time. We hope that this piece inspires you to put your best card forward! 

History

Before the age of the telephone, the calling card (or carte de visite in French) had a significant role as a social tool. In the days when ladies might receive visitors during hours they were known to be “at home,” the calling card served to announce a visitor to the house. Thought to have originated in China in the 16th century, the calling card flourished in France and England before coming to America, reaching its heyday during the Gilded Age of the late 19th century.

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Function

A visitor would present his card to the butler, who would place it on a silver tray and, leaving the visitor to wait, take it to the lady of the house. Different corners of the card would be turned down to indicate the visitor came in person, or that the call was intended to express congratulations or condolence.

On an initial visit, a gentleman would give a card to the butler and leave; if the recipient wished to start a friendship, a card would be returned in the same manner; but no response or a card returned inside an envelope indicated the recipient did not wish the acquaintance to continue.

Although business cards existed, they were never used in social situations. Just as today it is usually considered rude even to ask a new acquaintance what he or she does to earn a living, the idea that a person might produce a card with business information in a social setting was inconceivable until the early twentieth century. So the calling card would have served that social function, and any information missing, or perhaps a short note, would often be written directly on the card.

Format

The most formal calling card format features only a person’s full name, complete with title: Mr., Mrs. or Miss. “Doctor” is spelled out, as is “junior.” A home address, as brief as possible, is sometimes added to the lower right corner of the card; men’s cards sometimes include the name of a club.CallingCardEvent-OrangeClutch-03-Edited

Traditional calling cards are always engraved, using only black ink, the finest paper stock, and one of a small selection of conservative typefaces. Interestingly, the ornate social codes of American Society developed standard sizes to denote sex and marital status. These “proper” sizes were in use well into the twentieth century, though today it is acceptable to throw these rules out the window and choose a size – or create a different size – that suits your taste.

 

Single Men:                                        1-9/16” x 3-1/4”

Married Men:                                     2” x 3-1/2”

Single women:                                   2” x 2-7/8”

Married women and widows:          2-3/8” x 3-1/4”

Married couples:                               2-1/2” x 3-1/2”

 

The Calling Card Today

 Calling cards, sometimes referred to as personal cards, are experiencing a renaissance, particularly among younger people, who change jobs more frequently and may want to present themselves socially with a less work-related face. Though a standard business card size is still popular for calling cards, a more unusual size may be a surprise to the recipient. Ink color and typeface are other ways to make the card have more personality. And today, there is sometimes more contact information put on the card; a cell phone number and personal email address are very common, as they don’t change when a person changes jobs or home addresses. Still, many clients prefer the simple elegance of engraving only their names on the center of the card.

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How to Use Your Calling Cards

Calling cards are the perfect “blank slate” for today’s social and business interactions. It is perfectly acceptable to jot a little note or a bit of information directly on to your calling card. For example, after a business meeting you might add your work email and hand it to a new acquaintance. After running into an old friend you might write “call me” and include your mobile telephone number. How you use your cards is entirely up to you. You should be comfortable and confident that your cards are a sophisticated reflection of your personality and are completely adaptable to any situation. Calling cards also make fabulous gift enclosures – simply write “Happy Birthday” or “Congratulations” on the card and enclose it with a gift.

We’re sure you’ll find hundreds of ways to use your cards. Be sure to visit our website or call us at 212.570.4800 to learn more!

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