Have you heard the one about the Victorian couple whose corsets were so tight they couldn’t laugh? Yes, much of 19th Century life was often rooted in duty and Victorian values and confined by corsets. But it was also a time of great literary humor not to mention the raucous offerings of vaudeville and music halls. A few moments with these quirky Victorian Easter Cards will reveal surprisingly twisted humor.
Like Creepy Christmas Cards and Vinegar Valentines before them, these quirky Victorian Easter cards delivered laughs. All forms of humor including sarcasm, puns, irony and incongruity were at play. They’re often macabre, but much of the humor seems oddly rooted in human experience.
As with any art form, humor relies on knowledge of its social and historical context. Military motifs appear frequently in these quirky Victorian Easter cards. As Europe edged toward world war, is it possible that people needed to laugh at that which worried them sick? Humor generally doesn’t travel well to other cultures, not to mention other eras. Even so, these Easter cards are amusing, if not a little disturbing.
One Easter Card shows terrified bunnies under attack by murderous bumblebees while frogs lob seeds (or stones) to defend their furry friends. Another shows a baby chick firing his shotgun at the escaping Easter bunny. Still another shows a group of injured bunnies (including a double amputee on crutches), with one pushing a bloody bunny in a wheelbarrow.
Ultimately, what’s funny is a matter of personal taste. As author E.B. White said, “Humor can be dissected as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind.”
Thanks to Queen Victoria, England was emerging from its historic Puritanical bans on celebrations. Christmas traditions were embraced first, followed by other holidays including Easter. Like the Christmas tree years before it, the Easter hare (a.k.a. Easter bunny) hopped over from Germany in the 1880s.
Selecting greeting cards was not much different than choosing emojis or memes today. Most Victorian Easter Cards featured religious themes such as the Resurrection or lovely springtime scenes with chicks, eggs, flowers and chunky babies. You had your pick. There were the cute ones, the sentimental and the serious ones.
And then there were the others. These would be in the raunchy or whimsical sections today– You know the kind. They’re eccentric, sometimes morbid, sometimes raunchy and often humorously cruel in tone.
According to historian Ellen Lloyd – of AncientPages.com, humans have always laughed. Historical studies of Icelandic Sagas reveal that even the Vikings joked–even during deadly battles. “It was a mixture of sarcasm, irony and unusual jokes. The Vikings approach was that, if you knew you were going to die, why not do it laughing.”
Sir Henry Cole introduced the first commercially produced Christmas card in 1843. He commissioned John Callcott Horsley for its design. A total of 2,050 of these cards were printed and sold for a shilling each. It was a calculated business move, since he was partially responsible for the Penny Post of May 1, 1840. Prior to that, it was generally the receiver who paid the postage. The first adhesive postage stamp, the Black Penny featured QueenVictoria who was a huge fan of greeting cards.
Advances in printing techniques in the 19th century, helped make Victorian greeting cards affordable to the masses. Chromolithography was one of the most successful types of greetings with its rich four-color prints. When the halfpenny stamp was introduced in the 1870s, sending Victorian Christmas cards became the rage. Hopping not far behind was the Easter hare.
Victorians were avid scrap bookers. They collected greeting cards the way we collect digital imagery on social media platforms. Thankfully, many of these scrapbooks still exist, saving the twisted humor for posterity.
Additional Easter Posts:
Racing Nellie Bly
Victorian Secrets From Footnotes In History
Know The Past To Invent The Future