Although religiously themed prints made by wood carvers date back to the Middle Ages, the Christmas card is a relatively recent tradition. The widespread exchange of homemade Christmas cards began in Britain in 1840, with the introduction of the first postal service, the Penny Post. The man who played a key role in setting up the Penny Post, Sir Henry Cole, commissioned London artist John Calcott Horsley to produce the first commercially printed Christmas card in 1843. One thousand copies of the card, which depicted a family party and scenes of the poor being clothed and fed, with the inscription “A merry Christmas and a happy New Year to you,” were placed on sale. The tradition took off over the next few years as printing methods improved and, by 1860, large numbers were being produced and mailed in Europe. In 1875, lithographer Louis Prang became the first printer to produce Christmas cards in the United States. Today approximately 2.2 billion Christmas cards are mailed each year.
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