A Brief History of Greeting Cards

It is believed the early Chinese were the first to send what could be called a greeting card - for the New Year they sent tidings of good will. Evidence also shows that ancient Egyptians wrote greetings on papyrus scrolls.

The next stop on the timeline is around 1400 when the Germans used woodcuts to print New Year's wishes. In the early or mid 1400s Europeans exchanged handmade paper greetings for Valentine's Day. The British Museum has a Valentine from the 1400s that is the oldest known greeting card in existence.

The introduction of the postage stamp in 1840 helped the popularity of the greeting card. What was once relatively expensive, hand made, and personally-delivered gift became an effective and affordable means of personal communication. Another factor promoting advancement was the improvement of printing methods. Mass production didn't mean the end of the elaborate greeting card, however. The Victorian era saw some very ornate and intricate designs.

John Calcott Horsley was commissioned in 1843 to design the first published Christmas card. A young lady from Massachusetts, Esther Howland, was the first regular publisher of valentines in the United States. She started in 1849 with handmade valentines, often using real lace and ribbon, and went on to found a successful publishing company with elaborately decorated cards as a specialty.

The person generally credited with the beginning of America's greeting card industry is Louis Prang, a German immigrant. He started a lithography business near Boston in 1856 and soon his works were known as the best around.

After a slump in the late nineteenth century, the greeting card industry saw more and more new publishers. Competition created advances in printing, decorative treatments, and artistic techniques. The widespread use of color lithography in the 1930s fueled a continued expansion in the industry.

Humor in American greeting cards became more prominent in the 1950s with the introduction of the studio card – a long card with a short punch line. Cards for a wide range of events and holidays as well as "non-occasion" cards showed up in the 1980s.

Other important greeting card names:

Kate Greenaway - was a Victorian children's writer and illustrator whose cards were very elaborate. She made pop-up cards, shaped some like fans or crescents, and others cut into shapes of birds or bells.

George C. Whitney - The George C. Whitney valentine manufacturing company was in business from 1866 to the 1940s and became one of the largest valentine publishers in the U. S. with offices in New York, Chicago, and Boston.

Ellen Clapsaddle - One of the most prolific greeting card artists. Today her cards are some of the most collectible and sell for up to $200, with the mechanical cards going for $400 and more.

Joyce C. Hall - Founded Hallmark in Kansas City in 1916. Today, Hallmark sells over 12 million cards a year.

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