Egley's Christmas Card

However you celebrate the holiday season, chances are you've either sent or received a Christmas card at least once in your life. What you may not know is that the story of the very first Christmas cards and skating are intrinsically linked.

The first known Christmas card was created in 1843, the very same year Charles Dickens published "A Christmas Carol". Its creator, Henry Cole, printed one thousand copies under his pseudonym Felix Summerly. Sold in the Juvenilia shop The Home Treasury Office for a shilling each, the novel cards were lithographically printed and hand coloured. Unfortunately, Cole - or Summerly's - cards were criticized by stoic members of the Temperance Movement, who found it all a little too jolly and festive for their liking. To add insult to injury, for many years Cole wasn't given credit for his historical 'first'.

Henry Cole's Christmas card

For much of the twentieth century, sixteen year old British engraver's apprentice William Maw Egley Jr. was incorrectly attributed as the 'father of the Christmas card' because the date on the an etched Christmas card he devised, which read "Merry Christmas And A Happy New Year To You", appeared to be 1842. Upon closer inspection by historians, it was agreed that the date was actually 1848. Though Egley's card didn't enjoy commercial success as he never bothered to colourize it, it did have one fascinating element to it... a depiction of top-hatted skaters wearing Dutch style skates with curly toes. One skater, who'd perhaps indulged in a little too much holiday cheer, appeared to have taken a tumble.

William Maw Egley's Christmas card. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Used for educational purposes per license agreement.

Egley's Christmas card came out during the first twenty years of The Skating Club's existence in London, just three years before Henry Eugene Vandervell saw the first 'reverse Q' figure performed on a pond at Blackheath. Interestingly, Egley's card only came to light in 1931, when a Miss F.L. Cannan presented a collection of skating prints and drawings to The British Museum.

The timing of his Christmas card - during an early boom of skating popularity in London - no doubt only helped spread the message that skating was one of the most joyful holiday activities one could partake in.

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