Curator Joanna dives into our wonderful Easter card collection to show us her favourite designs.

We look after over 100 Easter cards, dating from the 1860s to the late 20th century. The cards, many a riot of joyful colour and beautifully rendered illustration, divide into two categories: religious and secular – non-religious.

Easter card, 1881, OB1996.105/16

Easter card, 19th century, OB1996.105/33

Religious cards feature images of angels, doves, crosses and religious verse. Secular cards frequently depict trees, hares, lambs and, of course, eggs, often with playful illustrations. Both religious and secular cards share spring-time imagery with flowers, doves and butterflies adorning the cards time and again. In several instances, flowers form the shape of a cross, reflecting how natural and religious themes intertwine to tell the story of Easter.

Easter card, 19th century, OB1996.105/64

Our Victorian Easter cards feature crafting techniques such as fringing, embossing and paper lace, which were also frequently used on Christmas cards. Several of our Victorian Easter cards have images on both sides and would have been kept as ornamental decorations, ensuring their survival to date.

Easter card, 19th century, OB1996.105/19

Easter card, 19th century, OB1996.105/19

The earliest Easter cards in our collection, date from approximately 1860, only 20 years after the earliest known Christmas card was commissioned in 1843. We have two cards from the 1860s, and these demonstrate how, right from the beginning, both secular and religious themes were portrayed on Easter cards.

One of the cards from the 1860s features several classic examples of Christian imagery: angels, a chalice, and a cross. The image on the other 1860s Easter card, though difficult to make out, is a little more surprising: a carriage is pulled by butterflies and driven by a mole, while a bird wearing a bonnet sits in the passenger seat.

Easter Card, 1860s, OB1996.537/7

Easter card, OB1996.105/45, c.1865-1870

From the 1870s, our collection of Easter cards expands greatly, perhaps reflecting how their popularity increased. We have examples of Easter postcards, which could be sent more cheaply than a letter, following the introduction of the 1/2 penny postcard rate in 1870.

One interesting Easter postcard in the collection is written to ‘My dear Minnie’, explaining that it was just a postcard ‘to let you know I am still alive’, however there is no stamp on the card, so either it was sent in an envelope, delivered by hand, or never sent at all.

Easter postcard, front, 19th century, OB1996.531

Easter postcard, reverse, 19th century, OB1996.531

The playful images on many of the Easter cards are as entertaining now as they would have been over 100 years ago.

Easter card 1880, OB1996.105/22

Easter postcard 20th century, OB1994.299/6

The most striking discovery I made while researching our Easter cards is the consistency of the images, from the earliest cards right through to today. Many of our cards are over 100 years old but would not look at all out of place on the shelves of card shops this Easter.

Easter cards on sale today still feature religious images, secular images, and spring-time imagery. The consistent imagery on Easter cards is in contrast to Christmas cards. Some of the images on Victorian Christmas cards, such as dead birds, would be very strange to modern consumers.

Happy Easter and if you fancy exploring more cards over the holidays you can search our online catalogue.

– Joanna Espin, Curator