According to many sources such as Wikipedia and the online postcard museum, the two pioneers of the early Christmas card movement were John Calcott Horsley and Louis Prang. As mentioned, Horsley was commissioned by Sir Henry Cole in 1843 to paint a card showing the feeding and clothing of the poor.
In 1843, Sir Henry Cole commissioned John Collcott Horsley, a fashionable artist of the time, to design the first Christmas card. Horsley, along with his artwork, was known for his leadership of a campaign against the use of nude models by artists-work. This effort earned him the nickname “Clothes-Horsley”
Horsley (pictured here) born in London in 1817, also designed the Horsley envelope, a pre-paid envelope that was the precursor to the postage stamp. Later in life, in 1882 was elected treasurer, a post which he held till 1897, when he resigned and became a “retired Academician.”
It apparently took three years before the Christmas card custom caught on; then the English Parliament passed the Postage Act,making it possible to send letters for a penny. Popularity had boomed within a decade across England. Of the 1,000 original Christmas cards printed, only 12 are known to still exist, two of which are in the Hallmark Historical Collection.
Prang was born in Breslau in then Prussian Silesia. His father Jonas Louis Prang was a textile manufacturer and of French Huguenot origin. According to Wikipedia, because of health problems as a boy, Prang was unable to receive much standard schooling and became an apprentice to his father, learning engraving and calico dyeing and printing.
In the early 1840s, Prang traveled around Bohemia working in printing and textiles. He eventually became involved in revolutionary activities in 1848 and was pursued by the Prussian government. He eventually emigrated to the United States and Boston, Massachusetts.
In the 1850s Prang’s firm specialized in prints of buildings and towns in Massachusetts. After buying his partner out, he eventually began work in colored printing of advertising and other forms of business materials.His firm became well known for war maps, printed during the American Civil War and distributed by newspapers.
In the 1860s he continued to prosper, creating high quality reproductions of major art works and popular album cards, showing natural scenes and patriotic symbols. Then in Christmas 1873, Prang began creating greeting cards for English markets and the next year, he began selling his first Christmas cards in America. Amazingly, Americans had to import greeting cards from England for three decades. His initial creations featured flowers and birds, unrelated to the Christmas scene. By 1881, Prang was producing more than five million Christmas cards each year. His Yuletide greetings began to feature snow scenes, fir trees, glowing fireplaces and children playing with toys. His painstaking craftsmanship and lithographic printing have made his cards a favorite of collectors today, while earning him the title of the “father of the American Christmas card (Pics of his original factory and home in Boston)