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Antiques & Collecting: Rosemary Riggott looks back to a Victorian Christmas

PUBLISHED: 15:16 06 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:31 20 February 2013

Christmas in Victorian times was a non-commercial, festive, family occasion. Christmas cards first made an appearance in 1843 and had a decidedly moral message.

Christmas in Victorian times was a non-commercial, festive, family occasion. Christmas cards first made an appearance in 1843 and had a decidedly moral message. The first, designed by JC Horsley, was a three-fold card showing a happy festive family group flanked by side panels depicting Feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. They sold at a shilling each (a tidy sum then) and as there were only a thousand printed, any that still exist are in private collections or museums. It was not until 1887 that it became the general practice to send cards to family and close friends. These were usually of a religious nature of pictures or birds; in very good condition they are worth anything from 30 to 75 nowadays.

Presents were only given to family members and, if one had any, to servants. Gifts to the latter were useful and practical, although a favourite maid or nanny might be given some scented soap.

After breakfast all the family would go to church and return to open their presents which would be under the Christmas tree introduced into this country by Prince Albert. For the men there might be a new pipe until 1860 Meerschaums were popular which were beautifully carved and in their own cases. Those carved in the form of a human head were the most popular and can fetch over 400. A more modest pipe would be a Walcombe clay pipe.

In the 1890s a family present might be a talking machine, in outher words a gramophone first produced in 1889 and sold commercially in the 1890s. For the children there would be dolls and teddies, both of which sell for high prices nowadays. The rocking horse was a favourite choice but other presents might include jig-saws, puzzles, books and writing sets.

Jewellery was a popular present a wife might give her husband a pair of cufflinks, usually of gold. The best examples were made after 1854 and in 18ct or 15ct (9ct cufflinks are usually mass produced). A husband might give his wife a brooch, perhaps a cameo or one made of turquoise or pearls. For young girls, coral necklaces were considered very suitable gifts.

Christmas dinner would be served in the evening and the best china, perhaps Crown Derby or Rockingham, would be used. Then often everyone would gather around the piano to sing carols before going to bed.


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