Christmas With The Straws - Christmas Cards

Christmas Cards at Mr Straws

At this time of year, like many of us today, the Straw family would be occupied with their Christmas card list.

It’s that time of year again when we start to think about getting in touch with family and friends, swapping news and exchanging Christmas wishes. Nowadays it’s so much easier - with the help of the internet and social media sites we can be transported digitally into each other’s living rooms, even if we are on the other side of the planet.

But travel back in time, and the humble Christmas card or letter was a much anticipated and prized item.

An example of a homemade labels
Mr Straws Label
An example of a homemade labels

The Christmas card as we know it today came into being in 1843, the invention of Sir Henry Cole. Cole is best known as one of the founders of the Victoria and Albert Museum and a key player in the introduction of the Penny Post. Like all public figures of the day, he had a huge amount of letter writing to do at this time of the year.

To cut down on time, he hit upon the idea of sending out an illustrated card with a pre-printed greeting. His artist friend, John Horsley created the first design – of a family sitting around a groaning dining table, with side panels depicting people helping the poor. Around 1000 cards were printed and sent out and the idea became an instant hit.

The introduction of the penny post brought postal deliveries within reach of most people – and the Christmas card was born!

Just one of the many Christmas cards in the collection at Mr Straw's House
Just one of the many Christmas cards in the collection
Just one of the many Christmas cards in the collection at Mr Straw's House

Christmas cards became increasingly popular, and by the 1880s when Florence Straw had started collecting them, there were a huge variety of styles and designs. Most featured variations on Nativity scenes, robins, holly and snowy landscapes, although some designs might strike us as odd today.

For example, the collection at the house includes cards with pictures of rabbits in baskets, two arguing schoolboys, a ruined windmill and a butcher!

Several feature upside down horseshoes – which might be interpreted as being bad luck, however the convention was that you offered good luck with an inverted horseshoe, (open end down) and received it with an upright horseshoe,(open end up).

Homemade cards were popular – there is a lovely one in the collection with a picture of pigs and beautiful handwriting inside, from ‘Doris’ to ‘Willie and Walter’.

The Straws were enthusiastic senders and receivers of Christmas cards, and today there are over 1200 cards in the collection at the house, ranging in date from 1888 to 1990 all carefully preserved by the family.

The sheer number of cards in the archive reflects their wide circle of family and friends and the many Happy Christmases they shared.