England's First Commercial Christmas Card

England's First Commercial Christmas Card Victorian Age Visual Arts Nineteenth Century Life

Henry Cole - a good friend of Queen Victoria's husband (Prince Albert) - was too busy to send personal Christmas greetings to his family, friends and colleagues in 1843.  To solve his problem, he asked John Callcott Horsley to create a commercially produced card for him. 

Horsley created the card and printed 1,000 copies for Cole.  This image depicts that card.  It was reportedly England's first commercially produced Christmas card.

Historians believe about a dozen of the original cards survive.  One of those originals, which Cole sent to his Grandmother and Aunt, sold at auction (in 2001) for £22,500 (approximately $37,000).  The price was far-greater than the auctioners had expected.

Well-known for his innovative ways, Henry Cole was often called "Old King Cole" by the British press.  He lived a long life (1808-1882), and some of his papers are maintained at the U.K. National Archives.

Was Henry Cole the namesake of the "Old King Cole" in nursery rhymes?


Old King Cole was a merry old soul,
And a merry old soul was he;
He called for his pipe, and he called for his bowl,
And he called for his fiddlers three.
Every fiddler he had a fiddle,
And a very fine fiddle had he;
Oh there's none so rare, as can compare,
With King Cole and his fiddlers three.

Historians tell us they are unsure who, if anyone, was the basis of the nursery-rhyme character. We can be totally sure it wasn't Henry Cole, however, since the folk-tale of the "merry old soul" was initially published around 1708-9 (a century before Henry was born).

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Dec 26, 2013

Updated Last Revision: Nov 11, 2016

Media Credits

Image of England's first commercially produced Christmas card, described above, online courtesy U.K. National Archives. PD


Image of "Old King Cole," by William Wallace Denslow (1856-1915), from "Denslow's Mother Goose," original copyright 1902 (now expired).


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"England's First Commercial Christmas Card" AwesomeStories.com. Dec 26, 2013. Feb 19, 2020.
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