'What Is It?' Christmas Card By Angus Thomas

'What Is It?' Christmas Card By Angus Thomas, c. 1880s, Great Britain. The Underpinnings Museum

Date: c. 1880s

Origin: Great Britain

Brand: Angus Thomas


This c. 1880s Christmas card, published by Angus Thomas, features a die cut illustration of a black and red corset on the front. The corset features a spoon-shaped busk with slot-and-stud fastenings and a decorative white lace trim around the circumference at the top.

A folded-over corner poses the question ‘What is it?’, which is answered by the following message within the card:

A Christmas Card!

Why of CORSET is,

With a very good sentiment too;

May FORTUNE be so inter-LACED

with your life

That she always will STAY with you.

On the reverse, someone has hand-written ‘From Mabel with love To Ethel’ in cursive.

According to Christmas Cards for the Collector by Arthur Blair, Angus Thomas established his Christmas card publishing business in London, England in the year 1883. The firm specialized in, and for a while monopolized the trade in humorous holiday cards featuring silly puns. The subjects of these pun-filled cards ranged widely, including not only corsets but also tuning forks, snuff boxes, stockings, corkscrews, bagpipes, and tennis rackets to name a few. A Valentine’s Day card featuring a mustache made with human hair is a curiosity in the collection of the York Castle Museum.

Several photographs of actresses dating to c. 1904-1906 in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery in London bear the name of Angus Thomas Ltd., suggesting that the firm eventually expanded to printing other types of postcards. The business was still operating and publishing Christmas cards in July of 1912 when, according to The Times, a ‘disastrous’ fire began in their London warehouse killing eight young female employees. The fire was likely a result of working with highly flammable celluloid in combination with hot sealing-wax.


Many thanks to Summer Anne Lee for the object description and research.

From the collection of Karolina Laskowska

Museum number: KL-2023-024


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