The World's First Christmas Card

John Calcott Horsley John Calcott Horsley

The Christmas card was born at Orestone Manor, in 1843.

The world's first Christmas card was designed here at Orestone Manor, by the original owner, John Callcott Horsley. Horsley was an artist, who built Orestone Manor to take advantage of the spectacular views over Lyme Bay, and did much of his painting here at Orestone. He painted the portrait of his brother-in-law, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, which hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. However, he is most famous as inventor of the Horsley Envelope, and as designer of the first Christmas card.

The Christmas card was the idea of Horsley's friend, Sir Henry Cole, who was the first ever Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Sir Henry commissioned the design from Horsley in 1843, and then printed 1000 cards, some of which he sold for one shilling (£0.05) each - a considerable sum at the time. The card is divided into three panels, with the central panel depicting a family celebrating Christmas, while the outer panels depict people caring for the poor. The card caused some controversy due to apparently showing a small child sipping wine.

The Worlds first Christmas card, painted at Orestone Manor
The World’s first Christmas card, painted at Orestone Manor

Eighteen of the original cards are known to be still in existence, one of which recently changed hands at auction for around £22,000. A further example can be seen (by appointment only) in the V&A museum.

Orestone Manor have produced a modernised replica of the original card, for customers to enjoy and send to family and friends. More info »

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