First “scandalous” Christmas card from 1843, handwritten “gloomy” poem “Santa Claus” by Emily Dickinson both on sale

The first commercially printed Christmas card is for sale – a joyous scene from the Victorian era that outraged some who denounced it as a prank when it first appeared in 1843.

The card, sold online from Friday through a consortium led by Marvin Getman, a Boston-based dealer of rare books and manuscripts, features an English family toasting the recipient with glasses of red wine .

“A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you”, we can read. But for abstainers – and there were plenty of them in the 19th century – the images included a bit too much joie de vivre: in the foreground, a young girl is depicted taking a sip from an adult’s glass.

That didn’t suit the Puritan Temperance Society at the time, which made so much fuss that it took three years before another Christmas card was produced.

“They were distressed enough that in this ‘scandalous’ photo, they had children toasting glasses with a glass of wine with the adults. They campaigned to censor it and remove it, ”said Justin Schiller, founder and president of Kingston, New York-based Battledore Ltd., an antique book dealer that sells the card.

Getman, whose brokerage had moved online before the coronavirus pandemic disrupted traditional traveling book fairs, said the hand-colored lithograph would have been a sample from a seller. Only 1,000 copies were printed and sold for a shilling coin, and experts believe less than 30 survived, he said.

The card, intended to serve as Christmas and New Years greetings, was designed by painter and illustrator John Callcott Horsley at the suggestion of Sir Henry Cole, a British civil servant and inventor who founded the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Cole is widely credited with starting the tradition of sending greeting cards, a multi-million dollar industry today.

It is believed to have gone on sale the same week in December 1843 that Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” was first published.

Christie’s London auction house is also selling one of the few cards and says it expects the item to fetch between 5,000 and 8,000 pounds ($ 6,725 to $ 10,800).

“Santa Claus”, a handwritten poem by Emily Dickinson about the merry old elf, is also sold by the Boston Consortium. Parental Warning: Dickinson’s point of view is a bit grim for young people.

“She’s basically saying that Santa Claus is dead, but the kids shouldn’t feel bad because he’s with the angels in Heaven,” Schiller said.

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