Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Who is J.C. Horsley?

In simple: the designer of the first Christmas card.  

John Calcott Horsley (1817-1903) was an English painter, who attended the Royal Academy of Arts.  Most of his artwork featured historical scenes, such as this painting of Mary Queen of Scots: 
Mary Queen of Scots in Captivity, J.C. Horsley
Then in 1843, Sir Henry Cole, a British civil servant, commissioned Horsley to design a card for him that he could mail out that Christmas.  The card's main image depicts a family sitting down to a meal.  But on the sides, scenes depict people providing food and clothes to the poor.

That year, approximately 1,000 of Horsley's cards were printed using a lithograph technique, and were hand-colored.  However, they were expensive (1 shilling each) and it took quite a few years for the tradition to catch on.  

Amazingly, a few of the original cards still exist:
Horsley Christmas Card 1843, Auctioned in New York, 2010
So, if you are thinking of carrying on a Victorian tradition this Christmas, remember J.C. Horsley and Henry Cole, and send a Christmas card!  In fact, you may want to make or buy handmade cards:

French Christmas Card by Darby Cards, Nasheville
Vintage Cards by Claryce Design
Angel Card by NewCreatioNZ
Steampunk Card by Immortal Visions
Vintage Card by GoGoSnap
Merry Christmas!


  1. Think cards were a great invention - especially at Christmas. It's the time of year all my friends old and new catch up (as I do with them). Look forward to the postman pushing through the door! They're just beginning to do so: and I'm smug, because I sent mine a week ago!

    Happy Holidays - not long now! Isobel from

  2. I would like to learn how to make cards. Everything handmade is soooo much better!

  3. Thank you for sharing the history of Christmas cards! How interesting!

  4. Inessa - I agree! I'm actually thinking about making my own...

  5. Unique Cozy Treasures - Thanks for the history lesson on Chrismas cards. I have made my own cards many a Christmas and even designed my own wrapping paper. Much fun!

  6. Wow - great post! And thanks for featuring my card! I love to make them!

  7. Thank you so much for featuring my Steampunk Christmas card in your wonderful post. As an old paper collector, I would love to get my mitts on one of Horsley's cards!

  8. Melissa - I know right! :) They auctioned off several of his next designs as well-sold for about $10,000 each card... too rich for me :)