The odd world of Victorian Easter cards

Easter card
Image caption Have you heard the one about a chick with a broken leg who goes into to a red Jewish egg-bar? No. No-one has

With their predilection for prolonged mourning and children who were seen but not heard, the Victorians have tended to be associated with moral solemnity. But they were not just bombazine-clad poker faces. They loved to send greetings cards at the drop of a hat - and Easter was as good an excuse as any.

According to the Greeting Card Association we are sending more cards today than ever before - although not many of us habitually send Easter cards.

But in the 1870s, the introduction of the halfpenny stamp meant sending cards was affordable for almost everyone - and it became something of a craze.

The idea of posting Christmas cards was leapt upon and it was natural for the next Christian festival to follow.

Image caption So many questions: Why are they naked? Why have they been furnished with special hammers?
Image caption Again, lots of questions...
Image caption The Victorians had unconventional ideas of where babies come from

Perhaps unusually for a society often considered to have been sickly-sweet and sentimental, as well as deeply principled, their Easter cards were not particularly religious in tone.

But unlike their Christmas cards they were in keeping with the holiday. At Easter, kittens, eggs and energetic hares bounded and abounded.

Image caption Unhappy bunnies: Rabbits scratched while breaking out of shells can at least look forward to smoking a pipe-egg full of violets
Image caption "Surprise!"

Helen Jones, who collects and deals in Victoriana, said the Victorians were especially fond of the unusual and even enjoyed "freak shows", in which people with "physical peculiarities" were put on display.

Such diversions were popular enough for permanent venues to be established, including one at London's Egyptian Hall.

Image caption A newborn chick looks on as its sibling is born into a frying pan wielded by an aproned rabbit
Image caption The hare on the left is especially unimpressed with the seasonal outfit
Image caption Nothing says "Happy Easter" quite like hares riding on to a battlefield
Image caption "What do you mean, you want a DNA test?"

"One great favourite was a woman who had no hands or fingers, but used to crochet using her feet. She travelled all over Europe and was invited into the homes of rich people.

"So although we might see some of these cards as a bit odd, in context they are actually pretty tame."

Image caption Frogs and giant wasps are just mean
Image caption So that's where singing maids live

According to the Library of Birmingham, making scrapbooks became a popular pastime for wealthy children and women, who would have created their own albums as keepsakes and to share with others.

Cards would be pasted into albums along with decorative chromolithographs or "scraps" and other ephemera of the period. Unusual pictures would be especially valued.

"I'd have thought any Victorian album-maker would be delighted to have some of these," Miss Jones said.

"And I'd also hope they'd be pleased we still enjoy them today.

"If 'enjoy' is the right word."

Image caption It won't be a happy ending for the chicks, despite giant eggs to cower in
Image caption Accidents happen in all walks of life. Admittedly, not many involve falling off a ladder into a very yolky egg

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