I know our readers love them some Beatrix Potter. For me, her illustrations bring to mind thoughts of warm summer days at my grandparent’s house – open fields and veggies growing for what seemed to be miles when I was young. I am sure many of you feel the same. And I am sure that many of you will be surprised to find out that she began her career creating images for Christmas cards. 

Beatrix Potter’s holiday illustrations will get you in a cozy, grateful mood. Printing them may even be a great gift for the Peter Rabbit lover in your life. 

So, how did Christmas cards launch Beatrix Potter’s illustrious career? 

The story goes that on Christmas morning in 1899 Beatrix, then 23, created cards for her family members and placed them under their plates. She said of the gifts: ‘the cards were put under the plates at breakfast and proved a five minutes wonder.’ 

Sadly, I was unable to locate pictures of original wondrous cards.

The budding artist’s uncle saw the potential in Beatrix’s drawings and the two set out to see if others felt the same. The second publisher they approached, Hildesheimer & Faulkner, paid for a batch of greeting card illustrations and requested more. Her career was truly launched. 

In 1890 an entire series of cards by the nature lover was produced and it would become a yearly series during the 1890s.


Something I enjoyed reading about Beatrix’s entry into commercial publishing was her dislike of the process to arrive at the finished product. Reports the V&A Museum

“When preparing her designs in watercolour, Potter adapted her use of colour so that they could be better reproduced using the colour printing method chromolithography. Even so, the drawings lost much of their quality in reproduction. Perhaps this is why Potter later said that she ‘never liked those cards’. Her early experiences with chromolithography probably also contributed to the decision to use the three colour process, a new technology more adept at reproducing her subtle watercolour work, in the printing of her first book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, over a decade later.”

The museum does a wonderful job showing the difference between the original and those prepared for sale below.

The publisher also made short seasonal booklets featuring the soon-to-be famous rabbits and simple stories about their holiday. These were a clear precursor for the books so many would grow to treasure. 

Potter’s cabinet of curiosities

The images below are two of my favorite, created after the Christmas card series had been around a few years. Beatix’s object selection was so interesting to me. I find the guinea pig family clever, and it also makes me wonder: would there have been guinea pigs on her farm?

And of course, mice in a coconut. It’s not exactly the picture that comes to mind when I think of holiday greetings, but the artist of course makes it work.

Beatrix’s career took off quickly. She would focus on providing a look into country life all year long. But perhaps she had a sweet spot for her roots. In 1932 she designed another set of cards, this time for the Invalid Children’s Aid Association. 

What is your favorite Beatrix Potter illustration?

Feeling the holiday spirit? Keep reading:

Why are red and green Christmas colors?

Christmas on the Frontier

Head-scratching Victorian Christmas cards

A Victorian Christmas party