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1990: The Christmas Card Article

The two pages of the card were quotations from a book article about the origins of the Christmas card. The puzzle was to spot that some characters of the message – as here – were in a bold font; together these spelled out the message.

Front page

The idea [of the Christmas card] seems to have occurred independently to
several people at much the same time. Edward Bradley (the novelist
‘Cuthbert Bede’), W. C. T. Dobson, the painter, W. M. Egley, who was
an engraver, and Henry Cole were each responsible for Christmas cards
in the [eighteen-]forties, but the first was the card which was designed for
Cole by John Calcott Horsley (later R. A.) and published by Cole in 1843.
It is interesting not least for the way in which the artist chose to depict
Christmas in the year of A Christmas Carol. It showed a family Christmas
dinner with three generations present: the party are toasting in red wine the
addressee as an absent friend: and the side panels illustrate Christmas
charity, with poor people being fed in the one and being given warm
clothes in the other. There is no evidence for the tempting view that as the
official who had been chiefly responsible for the penny post Cole was
influenced by the possibilities which this opened for an easier method of
conveying Christmas greetings. He was in any case a man of exceptional
inventive powers: he was also active in social reform and was associated
with the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the founding of the Victoria and
Albert Museum. As Felix Summerly he published children’s books, and
he tried to raise the standards of design of mass produced articles.

The bold characters from this page (give or take some capitalisation) spelled out: Brian Barker.

Inside page

Cole’s card was a hand-coloured lithograph which cost the considerable
sum of a shilling, and about a thousand copies were printed. Apparently,
however, the demand was not sufficient to justify a repetition of the
experiment, and the other cards of the forties were similarly abortive. ...
Those who began to produce Christmas cards commercially in the sixties
were apparently unaware of the pioneer cards of the forties, and the
initiative came from the public. Before 1860 it had become the practice
for Christmas visitors to write greetings on their visiting cards.
Sometimes they embellished them with scraps or coloured prints, and it
seems to have been this which early in the sixties led some manufacturers
to print plain greeting cards which the purchaser could decorate for
himself. The next step was to produce cards which already incorporated
designs, and soon everybody was sending Christmas cards to everybody
else. Or so it seemed: in fact the custom was at first largely confined to
the upper and middle classes.

From: Pimlott, J. A. R. The Englishman’s Christmas.
Harvester Press, 1978. pp. 101-103.

The bold characters from this page continued the message: wishes you a happy Christmas and a good new year.

The required blanks in the message were properly represented by bold blanks in the original word-processor document used to create the cards, though recipients were not expected to discover this! Eagle-eyed recipients will, however, have detected the bold full stop at the end of the message, as here (after “classes”).

Henry Cole has, I notice, his own blue plaque at 32 Thurloe Square, South Kensington (occupied at the date of this card by the embassy of the Republic of Kazakhstan, but reverting in 2013 to flats, it appears). Although the postal address of this house is in Thurloe Square, its main windows and front door are actually in Thurloe Place, and it directly faces the main entrance of the Victoria and Albert Museum; Cole’s home apparently had the very closest front door to his work. The plaque reads:

English Heritage
Campaigner and Educator
First Director of the
Victoria and Albert Museum
lived here

It is also interesting to note that since the article was written, the rear wing of the Victoria and Albert Museum, along Exhibition Road - known to Imperial College London people from an earlier time as its mathematics department and then called the “Huxley Building” – has been renamed the V&A’s “Henry Cole Wing”.

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Version 25: Revised 13 December 2017
Brian Barker