The surprising story of the Christmas card

There are 27 boxes of Christmas cards in the John Johnson Collection and a further 7 of Christmas cards: trade. Christmas cards are also represented in our Albums, notably in a Jonathan King stock book, a S. Hildersheimer & Co. sample album (1880-81), and in a beautiful Hildesheimer & Faulkner competition album (1881-1882).  This post aims to contextualise some of these cards.

The Victorians are often credited with (or blamed for) inventing the modern Christmas. Before the Victorian era there was no continuing tradition of celebrating Christmas. In the church calendar Easter was the more important festival. However, as most Christmas celebrations have their roots in traditional, even ancient, British and European customs, the Victorian Christmas was in reality an amalgam of novelty and nostalgia.

The Christmas card, however, was a true Victorian invention.  The commercial Christmas card can be dated precisely to 1843, to a commission by Henry Cole (1808–1882, later knighted). Cole had worked with Rowland Hill on the Penny Post (1840) and was later famed for his contributions to the Great Exhibition and to the founding of the South Kensington Museum (subsequently the V&A) of which he was the first Director. The card was designed by John Callcott Horsley (1817–1903) and departs from the intricate lace paper and elaborate composition of the contemporary and well-established valentine. The hand-coloured design encapsulates the central elements of the Victorian Christmas in a pseudo-triptych. It shows a wealthy family toasting the viewer, flanked by two scenes of charitable giving to the poor. It is notably secular. Sadly, we do not have an example in the John Johnson Collection, so I refer you to the V&A’s excellent online article about the card.

Two visiting-card style Christmas cards of the 1860s
Two visiting-card style Christmas cards of the 1860s. JJColl Christmas Cards 1

Despite good sales of the Cole–Horsley card (1,000 copies were lithographed and hand-coloured and those surplus to Cole’s personal needs were sold at his own shop, Felix Summerly’s Home Office, for the princely sum of a shilling each), the next commercial British Christmas card was not produced until 1848. In the 1860s, Christmas cards were typically similar to visiting cards, with scalloped edges and small embossed images of robins, holly or flowers. Note headings with similar designs embossed  at the top were also popular at this time with matching scalloped envelopes.

It was not until the 1870s that the tradition of sending cards was finally established, coinciding with the flowering of colour printing (in the form of chromolithography). The halfpenny postage for unsealed correspondence boosted sales of Christmas cards and marked the birth of the postcard in Britain. The Post Office first asked the public to ‘Post early for Christmas’  in 1881, and in 1882 The London Reader still referred to Christmas cards as the ‘latest development … of late years.’

Rimmel advertisement from theatre programme, 26 November 1877
Rimmel advertisement from theatre programme, 26 November 1877. JJColl London Playbills Covent Garden box 3 (30)

The newest cards from publishers such as Marcus Ward, Hildesheimer and Faulkner (both famed for their superior artwork), Sulman, and Rimmel (whose offerings were often scented sachets) were eagerly awaited and discussed in the press.  Cards were usually single rather than folded sheets with printed verses and space for handwritten messages on the back.

Christmas card with pop-up and opening doors.
Christmas card with pop-up and opening doors. JJColl Christmas Cards 6

In the 1870s to 1880s, they became more complex, sometimes incorporating lace paper, decorative scraps, mechanical devices (cards with paper ‘springs’ to create a three-dimensional effect, or with strings to activate moveable parts or pop-ups), and gold and silver printing. They were the province of the wealthy, but were less expensive than valentines.

Pantomime card with elaborate springs revealing a stage with a pantomime in progress.
Pantomime card with elaborate springs revealing a stage with a pantomime in progress. JJColl Christmas Cards 6

 

 

 

 

 

Marcus Ward’s artists included Walter Crane (brother of its artistic director) and Kate Greenaway. Several publishers ran competitions for card design or artistic arrangement of cards in the albums that were so popular among women.

Kate Greenaway card for Marcus Ward.
Kate Greenaway card for Marcus Ward. JJColl. Christmas Cards 12
Walter Crane card for Marcus Ward.
Walter Crane card for Marcus Ward. JJColl Christmas Cards 12

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Competition page. For their Exhibition of Christmas card designs of 1881-1882, Hildesheimer & Faulkner invited various amateurs to arrange these cards as they sought fit and add their own decoration. A number of prizes were awarded for the best designs.
Competition page. For their Exhibition of Christmas card designs of 1881-1882, Hildesheimer & Faulkner invited various amateurs to arrange these cards as they sought fit and add their own decoration. A number of prizes were awarded for the best designs. JJColl Albums 11

It is surprising that, in such a pious age, the imagery of most Christmas cards was not religious (although the accompanying verses sometimes were).

Religious Christmas card
Religious Christmas card. JJColl. Christmas Cards 10

Certainly there were some nativity scenes, angels, crosses with flowers or religious sentiments, but these were well outnumbered by images of children, Father Christmases, wintry scenes, flowers (often looking forward to spring rather than winter), robins, food and anthropomorphic animals and birds.

 

Humorous cards were also common.  Did the Victorians find the secular nature of most of their Christmas cards odd? There is little evidence that they did.  ‘The diffusion among one’s friends and relatives of things so well adapted to cultivate taste is a real Christmas Charity’ wrote Thomas Hood about Marcus Ward’s latest cards in the journal Fun. Church attendance (and charitable giving) would have been taken for granted, and the secular and the sacred seem to have co-existed comfortably.

An invaluable contemporary account of Christmas cards is this extra number of The Studio, 1894.

Cover of The Studio extra Christmas Number 1894
Cover of The Studio extra Christmas Number 1894. JJColl Christmas Cards 4

The Christmas card has continued in popularity, although the flights and fancies of Victorian invention and paper engineering have given way to much simpler, folded cards.  A few years ago it was almost unthinkable that the Christmas card might disappear, despite the secularisation of greetings as well as images on some cards in order to avoid causing offence. However, environmental concerns and the viable alternative of the e-Card may result in its decline. As Librarian of the John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera (in the Bodleian Library), I find a gentle irony in the gradual substitution of the ephemeral by the e-phemeral!

Julie Anne Lambert

 

 

 

 

Shakespeare in the John Johnson Collection for scholars and dilettantes

The Bard immortalized in ephemera

Such is Shakespeare’s fame, that he has, inevitably, permeated the culture of our land. Quotations and misquotations from his works pepper advertisements from cosmetics to shoe polish, artificial teeth to linen mesh underwear. The Bard lent a certain gravitas.

Keen's mustard detail
Food 7 (38b) detail
Keen's mustard ad
Food 7 (38b)

Shakespeare’s portrait graced match boxes and cigar labels, and advertisements for (among others) soap, patent medicines, mustard & candles. In her excellent work Portraits of Shakespeare (Oxford, Bodleian Library, 2015) Katherine Duncan-Jones situates these humble ephemera as derivative of the Droeshout engraving or the Chandos portrait.

Shakespeare: Great English writers on candles
Oil and Candles 1 (57)

 

Shakespeare cigar lights
Labels 12 (43c)

 

Pears soap ad showing Shakespeare
Soap 7 (14)

 

 

 

Cellular cloth and clothing catalogue showing Shakespeare collar, 1892
Oxford Trade Pamphlets (7) p. 13

 

 

 

 

 

 

A women’s clothing company (The Shakespeare Manufacturing Company of  Manchester) took his name and a collar was called after Shakespeare.

Inevitably, many circulating libraries and bookshops bore his name or his portrait on their trade card.

Clubb & Greening trade card with Shakespeare portrait
Booktrade Trade Cards 4

 

 

 

 

Hodgson's New Characters in The Tempest Miniature Theatre sheet, 1823
Hodgson’s New Characters in The Tempest Miniature Theatre sheet, 1823

In our ProQuest project (free within the UK), in addition to advertisements, there are sheet music covers, minature theatre sheets, popular and humorous prints, scraps and prospectuses.

However, the major corpus of Shakespeare-related ephemera in the John Johnson Collection is theatrical, with over 2,000 playbills and programmes from London and provincial theatres fully indexed and digitised on our ProQuest site with some playbills from the end of the 18th century on DigitalBodleian.  These playbills constitute a major scholarly resource.

Mrs SIddons in Macbeth, April 14 1812
London Playbills Covent Garden vol. 1811-1812 (159), with Sarah Siddons as Lady Macbeth

Not only can researchers find details of which plays were performed, when and in which venue, but also who performed them, in whose edition and in what context. As all performers are indexed, scholars can find Sarah Siddons in Macbeth, John Kemble in Coriolanus, Edmund Kean in Richard III.

The couplings of Shakespeare tragedies with somewhat lighter works are alien to our current theatre-going practices and reveal much about the nature of an evening’s entertainment expected by Georgians, Victorians and Edwardians.  Inserted into these long evenings were songs, dances, ballets, burlettas, masquerades, etc.  Musicologists can search for specific pieces or composers of incidental music or discrete works.

In addition to resources available electronically, there are eight boxes and three folders of ephemera and secondary material relating to the Bard, including undigitised prospectuses of Shakespeare editions. The Shakespeare index is online.

Don’t forget to explore ballads relating to Shakespeare too: http://ballads.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/

Rimmel’s scented world

It is Valentine time again.  In 2010 we mounted a small exhibition called The season for love  in the Proscholium of the Bodleian Library.   Last year, there was an international initiative on Twitter (#loveheritage) led by #AskArchivists to surface valentine collections, which resulted in our little  online gallery of comic valentines.

This year it is a great pleasure to collaborate with the National Valentine Collectors Association to highlight the valentines of Eugène Rimmel (1820–1887).   Also online are the excellent special Rimmel issue of  the Valentine Writer  (newsletter of the National Valentine Collectors Association) by Nancy Rosin, and Malcolm Warrington’s beautiful online Rimmel exhibition.

January-February from Rimmel's 1877 'Topsy Turvy' pocket almanac
From Rimmel’s 1877 Topsy-Turvy pocket almanac. JJ: Beauty Parlour 4 (11b). (C) Bodleian Library & ProQuest

Images: all images are from the John Johnson Collection (JJ) and are copyright Bodleian Library, University of Oxford (and, where indicated) ProQuest. Click to see the large images, but do not reproduce any images without permission.

Rimmel in the John Johnson Collection

While we have 20 boxes and several albums of valentines in the John Johnson Collection, there are very few Rimmel valentines.  However, we hold a wealth of ephemera relating to the varied activities of the firm. Advertisements for perfumes, table fountains,  disinfectors, soaps, Christmas novelties, Easter eggs, fans, etc,  are outside the scope of this blog, but much of this material has been digitised as part of ProQuest’s The John Johnson Collection: an archive of printed ephemera (freely available in the UK through FE, HE, public libraries and schools, and by institutional subscription elsewhere).  I will explore here valentine-related advertising and, more widely, Rimmel’s relationship with the Theatre, whose programmes he used extensively to advertise his valentines and other seasonal merchandise.

Eugene Rimmel trade card
Trade card for Eugène Rimmel [1847-1857]. JJ: Trade Cards 5 (33). (C) Bodleian Library & ProQuest
Eugène Rimmel (1820–1887) came to England from France and, with his father, established a perfumery business in London in 1834.   From 1847 to 1857, he was in Gerrard St, Soho, with a branch in Paris at 19 boulevard de la Gare d’Ivry (now boulevard Vincent Auriol) in the 13th arrondissement. His claim to fame was as ‘sole proprietor of the toilet vinegar’ (an aromatic vinegar used as an emollient).  He already enjoyed the Queen’s patronage.

At the Great Exhibition of 1851, Rimmel attracted much attention for his  ‘Great Exhibition Bouquet’ and his Perfume Fountain, which was also used in the Exhibition of Art and Art-Industry in Dublin (1853) and the New York Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations (1853–1854).

Rimmel advertisement
Eugene Rimmel advertisement, showing the Fountain of Toilet Vinegar. JJ: Beauty Parlour 4 (14)  (C) Bodleian Library & ProQuest
Rimmel's premises, 1861
Rimmel’s 1861 perfumed almanack, showing his premises at 96 Strand. JJ Beauty Parlour 4 (1*a) (C) Bodleian Library & ProQuest

By 1861, Rimmel had premises at 96 Strand, 24 Cornhill and the Crystal Palace, Sydenham. In Paris, he was now in the more fashionable boulevard des Italiens (one of the grands boulevards) and there was another branch in Berlin. Rimmel’s royal patrons now included Queen Victoria, the King and Queen of Spain and the King of Portugal. He was ‘inventor and patentee of the perfume vaporizer, for balls, soirées, theatres, etc.’

Rimmel's perfume fountain
Rimmel’s 1861 perfumed almanack, showing the perfume fountain
Text re uses of Rimmel's vaporizer from advertisement, 1862
Detail from a Vaporizer advertisement of 1862, listing the prestigious venues in which Rimmel’s vaporizer was used. JJ: Soap 1 (23) (C) Bodleian Library & ProQuest

Rimmel used perfume imaginatively, to scent sachet valentines and theatre and concert programmes, including the fine Japanese programmes of the Royal Aquarium (detail below), which were perfumed with E. Rimmel’s Royal Aquarium Bouquet .

 Imprint of Royal Aquarium programme, Nov. 12th, 1887
Imprint of Royal Aquarium programme, 12 November 1887. JJ: Entertainments folder 13 (7) (C) Bodleian Library & ProQuest

At the Haymarket in 1889, Rimmel’s Perdita Bouquet, dedicated to the famous actress Mary Anderson, and other perfumes were sold at the bars.

The Rimmel publicity machine was impressive. We have programmes in the John Johnson Collection from The Adelphi, Avenue Theatre, Canterbury Theatre of Varieties, Covent Garden, Drury Lane, Queen’s Theatre, Royal Alhambra Palace, Royal Aquarium, Royal Globe and Royalty theatres that proclaim they are perfumed by Rimmel.  Undoubtedly, there were others.  It is likely that the programmes (for a far wider range of theatres) that carry his advertisements or which are embossed ‘Rimmel’ were also perfumed. Where there is no statement to that effect we cannot be sure, and the perfume itself has of course long since evaporated!

playbill showing use of Rimmel perfume in performance
Playbill. Theatre Royal, New Adelphi, 29 February 1864. JJ London Playbills Adelphi box 1 (17)
(C) Bodleian Library & ProQuest

Rimmel’s perfumes were also integrated into his productions, such as Evanion’s An evening of illusions [c. 1871] and  at the Theatre Royal, New Adelphi in February 1864 (left and below)

Detail from New Adelphi playbill
Detail from New Adelphi playbill

and at W.S. Woodin’s Cabinet of Curiosities.

detail from W.S. Woodin playbill
Detail from W.S. Woodin Cabinet of curiosities playbill, [1861?] JJ Entertainments folder 5 (25) (C) Bodleian Library & ProQuest
detail of Drury Lane programme, 24 Oct 1873
Detail from Drury Lane programme, 25 Oct 1873 for Anthony & Cleopatra. JJ London Playbills Drury Lane box 2 (4) (C) Bodleian Library & ProQuest

For Antony & Cleopatra at Drury Lane, a ‘Persian ribbon’ was used to scent the scene

valentine advertising from Astley's programme, Boxing Night [1869]
Back page of Astley’s programme, Boxing Night, [1869]. JJ London Playbills Apollo – Astley’s (69) (C) Bodleian Library & ProQuest
The advantage of theatre programmes and playbills was that they were printed frequently, sometimes daily. They were, therefore, ideal vehicles for seasonal advertising. In our holdings are programmes advertising valentines from 1869 to 1873, and for 1875 to 1880, 1885 and 1887.

Valentine advertisement from Drury Lane Theatre programme, 1879
Advertisement from 1879 Drury Lane programme. JJ: London Playbills Drury Lane box 2 (14) (C) Bodleian Library & ProQuest

This 1879 advertisement on the back page of a Drury Lane programme for The lost letter and Blue Beard shows that valentines were marketed for children.  Rimmel used his countrymen Jules Chéret (more famous for his posters) and Faustin as designers of valentines.

Chéret ran a lithographic printing firm in the rue Brunel in Paris and many of Rimmel’s lithographed advertisements and almanacs carry his imprint.

Detail from back cover of Rimmel almanac, 1874
Detail from back cover of Rimmel almanac, 1874. JJ: Beauty Parlour 4 (9b)
(C) Bodleian Library & ProQuest

Although the annual almanacs were beautifully chromolithographed. the advertising pages (which sometimes refer to valentines) were usually modest.advertising page from 1886 comic almanac

Advertising page from Rimmel’s comic almanac pocket-book, 1886. JJ Beauty Parlour 4 (13) (C) Bodleian Library & ProQuestIt was in his magazine inserts that Rimmel could indulge in more fanciful illustration, often again by Chéret.  We have four-page valentine advertisements for 1868, 1869 and 1872-1874, variously printed by Chéret, Stephen Austin (Hertford) and Charles Terry (High Holborn).

Front page of Rimmel's 1867 valentine advertisement
Advertising leaflet for valentines, 1867. Cover (above), inside spread (below), back cover (right). JJ: Stationery 9. (C) Bodleian Library

Insert1867backlow

Insert 1867 openinglow.

Covers of two Rimmel advertising leaflets, 1872 and 1873
Covers of two Rimmel advertising leaflets, 1872 and 1873, showing how Rimmel responded to the preoccupations of his time. JJ: Stationery 9 (C) Bodleian Library
The Manufacture of Valentines. Illustrated London News 14 Feb 1787.
The Manufacture of Valentines. Illustrated London News 14 Feb 1787. JJ Valentines folder (C) Bodleian Library

The Rimmel empire continued to expand, with branches in Brighton, Florence, The Hague, Amsterdam, Brussels and Liège by 1874.

On 14 February 1874, The Illustrated London News showed and described the manufacture of valentines at the printing works of George Meek and the valentine workshop of Eugène Rimmel.

Just in time! In March 1875, a fire totally destroyed Beaufort House, the hub of the valentine side of the business. However, valentines continued to be produced, as evidenced by references to Rimmel’s ‘perfumed valentines, all novel and elegant, in great variety. Detailed list on application’ in a Rimmel advert on the back page of a Royal Princess’s Theatre programme for 28 June 1887, for example.    However, references to Rimmel valentines are fewer and more modest.  The otherwise rich online source for Rimmel research: 19th century UK periodicals (Gale, by subscription) has no results for advertising in magazines beyond 1877.   However, as late as 1888, there are small advertisements for Rimmel valentines in newspapers, such as The Standard and The Morning Post which state that a detailed price list is available on application.  Perhaps the fashion for valentines was declining, perhaps the firm slightly lost heart after the fire, or perhaps the perfume business was more lucrative.   Or perhaps the public had come to associate Rimmel with valentines to such an extent that costly advertising was no longer necessary. The Standard  for 12 February 1887 has a paragraph within its news pages:  ‘The approach of St. Valentine’s-day is signalised, as usual, by the production of a number of graceful and ingenious valentines by Rimmel and Co., including expensive ones, and others which are at once tasteful and not too costly ‘.  Whatever the case, the lace paper, tinsel, gauze, artificial flowers, feathers, scraps, etc. of Rimmel’s elaborate valentines gave pleasure to very many people in the 19th century and continue to do so to those who see them today.