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.


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.


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.

A Love Stemmed from Letters: The Story of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning

It all began when she read the words, “I love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett …”

R. Browning's first letter to E. Barrett

Robert Browning’s first letter to Elizabeth Barrett, dated 10 January 1845. Photo courtesy of Geni Blog (

In 2014, it may seem impossible to imagine that a romance can begin with a simple letter, but it is something that the Victorians certainly got right. The English poets Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning exchanged some 573 love letters over the duration of their courtship, which all began after Browning wrote Barrett a letter praising her poetry. Although Barrett was afflicted by a chronic illness, she and Browning continued to exchange letters, which allowed the two poets to gain a deeper understanding of one another. After their fifth month of correspondence, Barrett and Browning finally met face to face, but continued to explore their relationship through writing letters. In 1864, just over a year after they began corresponding, Barrett and Browning married and moved to Italy in an effort to alleviate Elizabeth’s illness in the country’s warmer climate. Barrett’s father, who wished her to never marry, disowned her after she ran away with her new husband.

It was through their habitual letter writing that the two poets revealed their sentiments for one another, ultimately allowing their love to grow. Their souls were embedded in their handwriting, lying exposed for the other to see. They shared poetry and philosophy, sealing their devotion to one another upon the sealing of each envelope. For these poets, their letters acted as a means for them to plunge into the other’s world, to learn what it is like to be Elizabeth Barrett, to be Robert Browning. Their story, one that evolved through letters, is one that will continue to withstand time. As their eyes scrolled over each delicately written word, their intimacy blossomed into something that no one else in the world could touch.


Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning

Portraits of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning. Photo courtesy of Geni Blog (

Today, there are infinite possibilities of how couples come to be. Here at Dempsey & Carroll, our passion is paper, and we would love to learn about your own personal love story and the letters and notes exchanged that helped to cultivate that love. If you are interested in sharing your story on our blog, please email


Madeleine Garone,

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