Through the ages, sending greetings dates back to ancient Egyptian and Chinese civilisations; messages of good will as well as such things as celebrating the New Year were often conveyed on papyrus scrolls.
By the early to mid-1400s, handmade paper greeting cards were exchanged throughout Europe. The Germans printed greetings from woodcuts. Printing advances during the 1850’s transformed the mass production of greeting cards. The postage stamp introduced in 1840 made sending these cards that much easier. The first known valentine card can be traced back to 1415. It is on permanent display in the British Museum in London.
In 1843, artist John Horsley was commissioned by Sir Henry Cole to design the first commercial greeting card for Christmas. Christmas cards were hand-painted, hand-delivered, and quite expensive. Cole was determined to come up with a way that would save both time and money. Publisher Joseph Cundall produced 1000 copies for Cole, lithographically, then hand-coloured them.
When Henry Cole sent one of his first Christmas cards to his grandmother in the mid-nineteenth century, little did he know how much in value it would jump in the 21st century? But that is just what happened when this Christmas card was recently sold at auction for a whopping £22,500 ($36,000).
Esther Howland became the first publisher of valentines in the US. Her first handmade valentine sold in 1849; from there, Howland established a successful publishing company that specialized in the intricately decorated greeting cards. Like many others in Victorian England, Cole believed that Christmas was the time for those who were better off to help the less fortunate; he used his Christmas cards to promote charitable endeavours.
In 1890, a talented 24-year-old artist by the name of Beatrix Potter came on the scene, introducing her rabbit named Bounce as a model to achieve her first commercial success. Potter was soon recognized, not as the legendary children’s author that she would become later in life, but rather as a creator of greeting cards. Her six rabbit designs with Bounce were used for general greeting cards.
Over 800 publishers produce more than 1.5 billion greeting cards in the UK market; it is the most successful greeting card industry globally. Charities also benefit from this trend ; over £50M are raised every Christmas through the sales of charity Christmas cards. In the UK, the average person sends 55 cards per year.
Worldwide, the most popular event to send cards (and flowers) is Mother’s Day, accounting for almost 29M cards sent. Interestingly, 85% of all greeting cards are purchased by women.
The Hall brothers, Joyce, Rollie, and William began selling postcards. Postcards soon lost their attractiveness due to lack of privacy. They concluded that the public wanted cards mailed in individual envelopes. In 1925 the word iconic “Hallmark” stamp first appeared on the back of a card. They adopted the slogan “When you care enough for the very best”, which was actually created in 1944 by a salesman at a meeting when he scribbled it on a cocktail napkin. Sure enough, Hallmark has that cocktail napkin – with the salesman’s original scrawling of the slogan – on display at its company headquarters.
In the early 1870s, Prang began publishing deluxe editions of Christmas cards, through his small lithographic business, which found a ready market in England. In 1875, he introduced the first complete line of Christmas cards to the American public.
In the early 1930s, the adoption of colour lithography catapulted the U.S. greeting card industry into new growth and expansion. Publishers supported the sale of war bonds and provided cards for the troops overseas. In 1950, the studio card was introduced, celebrating humour in American greeting cards. During the 1980’s the “non-occasion” card was introduced and continues to be popular.
E-cards made their debut on the Internet in the 1990’s; they account for a major proportion of all greeting cards sent. Additionally, environmental impacts, such as deforestation, have helped to popularize the trend.
Ironically, greeting cards were once used and sent only by those who could well-afford them, so they were few. With the advent of e-cards, this may once again be the case, as only very few will send actual cards.
Take the time to browse the greeting card racks at your favourite store and select cards for those who are special in your life. Sending special cards to special people in your life will let them know that they mean more than a few clicks on the internet and that the words were selected with love and care.