The custom was started in the UK in 1843 by Sir Henry Cole. He was a civil servant who wanted ordinary people to become more interested in the new ‘Public Post Office’.
With his artist friend John Horsley, they designed the first card and sold them for 1 shilling each.
The card had three panels and the outer two showed people caring for the poor and the centre was a family having Christmas dinner! Some people disliked the idea of a child being given a glass of wine. New railways carried more post, and a lot faster, than a horse and carriage so the Post Office offered a Penny stamp.
Cards became even more popular when they could be posted in an unsealed envelope for one halfpenny. Christmas cards became popular when printing improved and could be produced in large numbers (approx 1860). By the early 1900s, the custom had spread over Europe, especially in Germany.
Early cards usually pictured Nativity scenes but in late Victorian times, robins and snow-scenes became popular because the postmen wore red uniforms and were nicknamed ‘Robin Postmen’.
Snow-scenes were popular because they were a reminder of the very bad winter of 1836.