Chance to own Sir Henry’s first card

Rare 1881 facsimile of original Christmas design up for auction


Have you ever fancied owning a one of the very first Christmas cards invented by Sir Henry Cole but not had the readies? Well, now’s your chance!

Dominic Winters Auctioneers has a De La Rue 1881 facsimile of the 1843 colour design from The Henries’ Awards namesake in its sale on Wednesday, 15 June, which has an auction estimate of £500-£800.

Above: Lot 437 in the auction is the 1881 version
Above: Lot 437 in the auction is the 1881 version of Sir Henry’s card

It might not be one of the original 1,000 cards Sir Henry had printed from a design by artist John Callcott Horsley, but it’s still pretty rare as auctioneer Chris Albury, who specialises in books, manuscripts, ephemera and photography for the Gloucestershire business, hadn’t heard of the edition.

“It’s come from an online ephemera dealer who wasn’t sure how to price it so thought a regular auction might be better,” Chris told PG Buzz. “I didn’t know about this facsimile which must be quite rare in itself, but far less valuable, of course. The originals seem to go for between £5,000-£10,000 at auction.”

The card is part of 941 lots in the two-day Printed Books, Maps, Playing Cards & Games, Literature, Private Press & Illustrated Books auction which starts on Tuesday at the auction house that was in the news last month for the £7,000 sale of a pair of naughty Emotional Rescue cards from the early 90s GirlsTalk range which had been signed by Princess Diana and sent to King Constantine of Greece.

Above: Dominic Winters Auctioneers sold these cards signed by Princess Diana last month
Above: Dominic Winters Auctioneers sold these cards signed by Princess Diana last month

As lot number 437, Sir Henry’s design will be the seventh one of the second day so is expected to come up shortly after 10am. The auction price will have VAT added on the buyer’s premium, so an additional 20%, plus extra charges for online bidding.

“It’s best to either bid by commission or phone if you can’t be here,” Chris explained. “It’s still early days so hard to say how much interest there will be.”

The catalogue description on page 111 says: “Christmas Card. A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You, London: De La Rue & Co, [1881], chromolithographed card with ‘To’ and ‘From’ not completed, printed facsimile statement to verso, a little spotting and some marks including old adhesive remains to verso from previous album mounting, 83x130mm A facsimile copy of the first Christmas card, originated by Henry Cole in 1843. This facsimile is uncommon. Grolier/Elliott 44; Elliott, Inventing Christmas 87. (1) £500 – £800.”

Also in the sale are a number of Christmas cards dating from the 70s and 80s that were sent by Irish poet, playwright and translator Seamus Heaney, best known for Death Of A Naturalist. Each has a poem printed on the inside as well as the signed hand-written greeting, with auction estimates of £200-£300.

Above: The auction includes Christmas cards from poet Seamus Heaney
Above: The auction includes Christmas cards from poet Seamus Heaney

Sir Henry was instrumental in reforming the British postal system, helping to set up the Uniform Penny Post which encouraged the sending of seasonal greetings on decorated letterheads and visiting cards. The service had started as the Royal Mail for Henry VIII and the court in 1516 then was opened to the public by Charles 1 in 1635 and it became a public service under the 1660 Post Office Act.

Having decided a time-saving solution to seasonal greetings was needed, Sir Henry came up with the idea of the Christmas card in 1843 before going on to become founding director of the V&A in 1852, and the museum has always had a special interest in collecting and displaying greeting cards.

It now holds the national collection of cards for all occasions, with over 30,000 examples, more than half of which celebrate Christmas, and the V&A does have a copy of Sir Henry’s original card – as does Progressive Greetings’ editor Jakki Brown.

If anyone from the greetings industry manages to win this facsimile at the auction, PG Buzz would love to hear about it!

Top: The catalogue entry for the facsimile of Sir Henry Cole’s card

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