The home of the Cartophilic Society of Great Britain

Good Friday – and the hot cross bun

This week we are having a little experiment, and our Easter Specials will be coming to you in this section, with tomorrow night`s main newsletter being linked to from the main newsfeed boxes. 

Anyway welcome to Good Friday, find yourself a comfortable chair, and we will tell you the wonderful story of the Hot Cross Bun.

These tasty treats seem to be growing ever more exotic, and this year a supermarket is offering several varieties including the spicy offering of chilli and cheese, the sour of raspberry and white chocolate, and the sweeter treats of Bramley apple and cinnamon or rhubarb and custard. However they jazz them up, the hot cross bun still retains their traditional popularity and there is a definite link to Good Friday. And many people believe that the cross relates to Good Friday because of the story of the Crucifixion…..

Well, think again.

According to the only cigarette card of a hot cross bun that we have found so far, W675-165.1 [tobacco : UK] Wills “Do You Know” first series (September 1922) 14/50 “The buns now associated with Good Friday are traceable to a very remote period [when] Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans offered marked cakes to their gods.”

Here is the front of that card….


PictureSadly there are no hot cross buns featured in that intriguing metallic hued set by Cavanders entitled “Ancient Egypt”, but it is known that the Egyptians made cakes, and buried them in tombs as food for the afterlife; they also produced and passed on written recipes.  And we know this because cakes and recipes have been found in tombs by archaeologists, and their contents examined, so we know that their cakes seem to have used a type of underground tuber, which was ground into a powder, mixed with honey or with sesame, or fruit and spices, and then fried.

In addition very similar “honey cakes” were indeed made by Greeks and Romans as that Wills “Do You Know” first series also states. And the reason for that is because all these civilisations were keen bee-keepers. In fact the Egyptians revered the bee, using the wax for medicinal purposes,  preserving papyrus, sculpting and modelling, as well as embalming.  Bees were also one of their symbols for royalty.

The only slight problem with the hot cross bun theory is that the Egyptians did not have a cross as we know it today, but they did have the Ankh, which was the symbol of life, and was carried by royalty at their coronations. This had a kind of cross, which represented the horizon by the vertical bar and the rising and setting of the sun by the horizontal one, but also had a loop on top to represent the mouth of a fish, or more topically, the mouth of the River Nile which brought fertility and plenty to the land.

You can see an Ankh on W675-195 [tobacco : UK] Wills “Lucky Charms” (October 1923) 15/50, and here it is. 

I did try to spot one on John Player “Egyptian Gods and Goddesses” but no luck. However do have a look for yourself as the fronts and backs are all uploaded to

Coming closer to today, and continuing with W675-165.1 [tobacco : UK] Wills “Do You Know” first series (September 1922) 14/50, the text also tells us that “The Saxons ate cross-bread in honour of their goddess of Spring, Eostre, from which Easter is derived.” Now Eostre had a festival on and around the Spring Equinox, which is in the close proximity of Easter. She was a German goddess who much appealed to the Anglo Saxon pagans, and her symbols were a hare or rabbit (our scheduled subject for tomorrow) and an egg (Monday`s subject). The early Christian Church seems to have liked the idea of this seasonal festival just as the cold winter started to give way to warmer weather, but were not so keen on some of the more pagan elements, so they changed the name to Easter, and started the link to the Crucifixion. In fact Wills Do You Know actually tells us that “The early Christian Church followed the practise and marked their cakes or buns with the symbol of the cross, to commemorate the Crucifixion.”

PictureAn odd fact about Good Friday and the Hot Cross Bun is that every year a ceremony is carried out in a public house in Bow. You can read about that at

This repeats the theory that a bun baked on Good Friday will not decay, though there are other theories that if you ate it up to a year after baking it would remain edible, and not stale or moulder. The hot cross bun had quite a few links to folklore as they were often nailed to an indoor wall to protect the inhabitants, or hung up in kitchens or up chimneys to prevent fires, and though the pub caught fire in the 1980s the buns seem to have survived though a little charred.

Most intriguingly sailors took hot cross buns to sea to protect themselves from shipwreck. So the idea of the widow baking the buns was probably in the hope that if her son had been shipwrecked he would eventually be found.

As he was a widow`s son, he would probably not have been an officer, but you can see a typical ordinary sailor of the Napoleonic Wars, a gunner, on this Carreras “History of Naval Uniforms” (September 1937) 27/50

And if you would like to make a vintage hot cross bun, from an 1825 recipe, nip over to – it also includes another tribute to this edible Easter excitement.

Now, remember at the start I said that the Wills card was the only “cigarette” card hot cross bun? That is because there is a cut out advertising card, or more probably a point of sale display piece, showing a hot cross bun seller. You can see it at   This was issued by Armour, of Chicago, Illinois, America, with Cloverbloom Butter. Founded in 1867, by the 1920s Armour had over four hundred branches. Their butter cartons were often printed with cut out models, dolls house furniture. nursery rhyme characters, etc, most of which were line drawn, with the idea certainly being that the consumer could colour the items in however they chose; and they also issued colouring books just to reinforce that thought. The rhyme comes, of course, from “Mother Goose”, whose tales were first published in book form in 1697.

Well we hope you enjoyed our short piece, and don’t forget to hop back here tomorrow for the story of those cartophilic hares and rabbits….

Latest News