The first commercially printed Christmas card is up for sale — a merry Victorian-era scene that scandalized some who denounced it as humbug when it first appeared in 1843.
The card, being sold online starting Friday through a consortium run by Marvin Getman, a Boston-based dealer in rare books and manuscripts, depicts an English family toasting the recipient with glasses of red wine.
“A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You,” it reads. But for teetotalers — and there were plenty of those in the 19th century — the imagery included a bit too much holiday cheer: In the foreground, a young girl is pictured taking a sip from an adult’s glass.
That didn't sit well at the time with the puritanical Temperance Society, which kicked up such a fuss it took three years before another Christmas card was produced.
“They were quite distressed that in this ‘scandalous’ picture they had children toasting with a glass of wine along with the adults. They had a campaign to censor and suppress it,” said Justin Schiller, founder and president of Kingston, New York-based Battledore Ltd., a dealer in antiquarian books who is selling the card.
Getman, whose brokerage had shifted online before the coronavirus pandemic disrupted traditional touring book fairs, said the hand-colored lithograph is believed to have been a salesperson's sample. Only 1,000 copies were printed and sold for a shilling apiece, and experts believe fewer than 30 have survived, he said.
The card, intended to double as a greeting for Christmas and New Year's Day, was designed by painter and illustrator John Callcott Horsley at the suggestion of Sir Henry Cole, a British civil servant and inventor who founded the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Cole is widely credited with starting the tradition of sending holiday cards, a multimillion-dollar industry today.
It's believed to have gone on sale in the same week in December 1843 that Charles Dickens' “A Christmas Carol” first was published.