Kate Sproston Design

Behind the scenes at Kate Sproston Design, making beautifully embroidered textiles for the home.


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The Origins of the Christmas Cracker

When we designed and created our first reusable Christmas crackers back in 2012, we never realised how quintessentially British they were. It was only upon talking to buyers in Europe that we were told they are not recognised as much of a traditional part of the festive season outside of the UK. This got us to wondering how the Christmas cracker came to be, and lead us to discover this quaint little bit of British history.

Tom Smith's Christmas Crackers Catalogue front cover

Tom Smith’s Christmas Crackers full of ‘Mirth, Wit and Fun’, 1910-11 catalogue front cover. (Image from Tom Smith’s Christmas Crackers An Illustrated History by Peter Kimpton, 2004).

Back in the mid 1800’s, a seller of confectionery and ornamental icing named Tom Smith, was inspired to sell single sweets wrapped in paper after a trip to Paris. He noticed that these paper wrapped sweets, or bonbons, were very popular with the Parisians and decided to introduce the idea to his customers who visited his London shop. The new sweets were a great success, with Tom’s addition of love tokens and verses inside the wrapper. They soon became a sure fire hit, especially with young men and women.

Unfortunately after the Christmas period sales slumped, and Tom began to ponder the problem of how to increase their popularity. According to legend, it was whilst throwing a log onto the fire that Tom heard the “pop” or “crack” sound of the wood starting to burn, and came up with the idea of adding a bang to his paper sweets. To accommodate the bang, the packaging would have to be enlarged, with a small gift and paper hat added along the way, the cracker we recognise today was born.

Tom Smith's box of Victory Christmas Crackers

‘Victory Crackers’ bordered with Union Jack flags and featuring the armed forces. (Image from Tom Smith’s Christmas Crackers An Illustrated History by Peter Kimpton, 2004).

The new improved bonbons soon became known as ‘Cosaques’, supposedly after the crack noise a Cossack’s whip was meant to make. This was later dropped, and they soon became know as crackers. The Tom Smith name would go on to become synonymous with Christmas, and the company would continue producing crackers and decorations for the next 150 years, even supplying the Royal Family.

Tom Smith's Suffragette Crackerettes and Golliwog Crackers

Left: ‘Suffragette Crackerettes’ featuring a ‘Vote for Tom Smith’ slogan, 1910-11. Right: Tom Smith’s ‘Golliwog Crackers’, 1910-11. (Both images from Tom Smith’s Christmas Crackers An Illustrated History by Peter Kimpton, 2004).

Hundreds of boxes of crackers were designed and produced over the course of the company’s lifetime, many of which reflected the political and economic climate of the day. Boxes included ‘Suffragette Crackerettes’, ‘Golliwog Crackers’ and ‘Victory Crackers’ from the First World War. Crackers for spinsters, bachelors and married couples were also available, the contents of which we can only guess!

Even though our embroidered Reusable Crackers do not contain the classic snap, we are still pretty pleased to be part of a British Christmas tradition. And ever the romantics, we love to hear all about the special messages and gifts our customers fill our crackers with.

Monogrammed Cracker from the Kate Sproston Design Scandi Collection

Monogrammed Cracker from our Scandi Collection.

All images taken from ‘Tom Smith’s Christmas Crackers An Illustrated History’ by Peter Kimpton. Published by Tempus, 2004.

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