Sunday, December 9, 2012

LID: An Englishman Births the #Christmas Card Tradition

DIY dewienski christmas cards 2010
By: amy.gizienski @

December 8

Christmas Card Day

It's that time of year again. With Christmas just three weeks away its the perfect time to write your Christmas cards and mail them off.  According to the Greeting Card Association, more than 2 billion boxed Christmas Cards were sold in 2010. While that number is high, the sale of Christmas cards is declining. Why?  Today its easier  and less costly to send a free ecard than mail Christmas cards.

Sir Henry Cole
Christmas Card Day isn't so much a day to remind us to send out our Christmas cards than it is to honor the man who created this international tradition. It all began in England with Sir Henry Cole.

Sir Henry Cole
Sir Henry Cole was born in Bath, England on July 15, 1808. He was the son of British Army Captain Henry Robert Cole (1780-1863) and Leticia Downer (1792-1867/8). On December 28, 1833 Henry married Marian Fairman Bond, a daughter of William Andrew Bond. They had nine children.

1 Downer Peacock, born in 1837, and who died young.
2 Letitia Marian, born in 1838, and who died unmarried.
3 Henrietta Lindsey, who died unmarried.
4 Mary Charlotte, born in 1841and who married George C J Bartley. They had at least 5 children.
5 Henry Hardy, born in 1843, died in 1916. He married Beatrice Trulock. After her death, he married Kate Cooper. He had children by both marriages.
6 Alan Summerley, born in 1846, died in 1934. He married Maggie Clark and had at least three daughters.
7 Isabella Langdale, born in 1850, and who married Frank Rede Fowke and had at least four children.
8 Rose Owen, born in 1852, and who died unmarried.
9 Charles Buller, born in 1851, died in 1901

Civil Servant and Innovator
When Henry was fifteen years old he moved to London looking for employment. His first job was in 1823 working as a clerk for the public records historian in the Public Records Office, where he was instrumental in reforming the Records Commission. He became the Assistant Keeper in 1838. From 1837 to 1840, he worked as an assistant to Rowland Hill and played an important role in developing the Penny Post. Henry is also credited as having designed the world's first adhesive postage stamp, the Penny Black.

Artist and Author
After Henry arrived in London, he studied watercolors under David Cox and David Wiley. Later on in his life he would study engraving and life etching that would be dispalyed in 1866 at the Roal Academy. Cole was a member of the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. He lobbied for the government to improve upon industrial designs and got the attention of Prince Albert. Prince Albert adopted the organization as one of his patronages. In 1847, a charter was signed making the organization Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. As one of Prince Albert's chief advisors, Henry created a competition that resulted in the Summerly's Tea Service that he designed and was manufactured by Minton's pottery works. Henry had given much thought into his design. He had once said it “had as much beauty and ornament as is consistent with cheapness.” The tea service did well in the market. Later that year, Henry founded Summerly’s Art Manufactures. Summerly’s Art Manufactures was a place where painters and sculptures could create designs for industries. He also founded in 1849 ,with the painted Richard Redgrave, the The Journal of Design and Manufactures. The journal promoted the arts with the promotion, “the germs of a style which England of the nineteenth century may call its own.” 

 Henry was not only a gifted artist but a talented writer as well. He wrote and published many pamphlets. Under the pseudonym Felix Summerly, he wrote many children's books including A book of stories from The home treasury; A hand-book for the architecture, sculpture, tombs, and decorations of Westminster Abbey (1859); An Alphabet of Quadrupeds (1844); and The most delectable history of Reynard the Fox (illustrated with twenty-four coloured pictures by Aldert van Everdingen) (1846).

Queen Victoria opens the Great Exposition

In 1848, Henry proposed to Prince Albert that there should be a Great Exposition of All Nations where artists from all over the world could gather and share their ideas. Prince Albert liked the idea and asked Henry to organize it. The Great Exposition opened on May 1, 1851 and lasted until October 15th. Six million people attended the fair. The success of the exposition led to better design school in England. Henry was asked to reorganize all of England's Schools of Design. He was appointed as the head of the Science and Art Department, a job that lasted 21 years.

 At the end of the fair Parliment authorized Henry  £5,000 to procure the most striking of selections. After he bought the objects, he founded the South Kensington Museum to display them as a pernament collection along with the best drawings from art schools around the world. In 1899, the museum was renamed the Victoria and Albert Museum. Cole was the museum director from 1857 to 1873. He retired from public service but never slowed down. Within two years of his retirement he also founded the National Training School for Music and the National Training School for Cookery. Queen Victoria personally recommended him for knighhood. In 1875, he was received into the Order of the Bath as Knight Commander.

 By the end of 1881, he had started to write his memoirs with the help of his daugther and had begun to suffer from a heart condition. His physcians had advised he live a quiet life instead of maintaining his busy scedule. He refused. In April of 1882, Henry had overexereted himseld and was ill for a week. The following Sunday April, 16, 1882 he felt well and the next day he sat for a portriat being painted by the famous painter Whistler.  That night his illness began to worsen. His physcians determined he had affection of the heart being complicated by congestion of the lungs caused by exposure from the week before. His heart condition was not considered critical. The following day, Sir Henry Cole's heart stop without warning. He died at the age of seventy-three. The April 20, 1882, Times wrote:  the country has lost a man whose name will occupy a prominent place in the history of art and industry and letters during the present reign. Wherever the influence of South Kensington has penetrated, wherever the movement has been felt which, during the present generation, has brought the attractions and influences of art to bear on the life and industry of the country, the name of Henry Cole will long be remembered and held in honour."

The First Christmas Card
Hallmark Archives
Sir Henry Cole and the Christmas Card

The Christmas custom of Sir Henry Cole's time was to handwrite letters to your loved ones. With a life as busy as his this was a hard thing for Henry to do. In 1843, Henry came up with a solution to his Christmas time problem. He hired artist John Calcott Horsley to create a Christmas card he could use instead of writing personal letters. The card was a triptych with a scenes on each side depicting feeding the poor and clothing the hungry. In the center was a colorful portrait of a family celebrating with wine. Underneath the family were the words "Merry Christmas and Happy New Years to You." Horsley made 1,000 cards only 18 of which are known to have survive to this day. The cards measured 5 1/8 inches by 3 and 1/4 inches, each were hand colored by Horsley. Henry never mailed off all of the cards. Instead he sold the extras in his Felix Summerly art shop on Bond Street in London for six cents each. At first the English didn't take well to the idea of Christmas cards. Some Puritans were outraged at the depiction of the merriment display for the holiday. They openly voiced their opinions against it. By 1860, the objections had vanished and custom of sending Christmas cards had found its pernament place among British Christmas traditions.  Today, due to their rarity the cards are considered to be quite expensive. In December of 2008, on of the surviving cards was auctioned off in England for £8,500 which is over $13,000.

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