Where did greeting cards come from?
Sending family and friends cards for their birthdays, holidays, and any special occasion is a sincere gesture of how much we care about them. It shows that we’re thinking about them and are taking the time to send our love to them. This tradition has been going on for years, but I got to thinking where did this actually come from? Who was the first person to think of this idea? So I decided to do some research to find the origin of greeting cards.
Mini History Lesson
To get the full background of where this tradition started, we have to go all the way back to the Ancient Chinese and Ancient Egyptians. They would send written messages to each other to celebrate and wish each other well in the New Year. They also thought that by doing this, they were able to ward off evil spirits. These kinds of greetings aren’t what we consider what we know as greeting cards today though, and instead were pretty much just a written letter. So since these messages weren’t considered greeting cards, the first evidence of an actual printed card is from 14th century Germany. There were people that would make cards by having images carved onto wooden blocks, that would then be covered in ink and pressed onto paper, and then sent out as greeting cards. This version of printed cards was extremely expensive because of the time it took to hand-make each individual card, so obviously only the wealthiest people were able to have the luxury of sending cards.
Obviously this way of printing wasn’t going to last very long since it was way too time consuming, so enter Sir Henry Cole. This man is credited to have created the first mass-produced printed greeting card. He hired his friend, an artist named John Callcott Horsely, to create and design a painting that could be easily made and printed in large quantities so that he could send it out to his friends and family members. Sir Henry Cole also helped to introduce the Penny Post, London’s postal service, which allowed these cards to be sent out in mass quantities for cheap, which helped the greeting card business to grow.
Coming to America
America didn’t get on board with greeting cards until a German immigrant, Louis Prang, perfected the art of lithographic production. Lithography is a type of printing process, which he perfected and was now able to replicate great art work in both high quality and quantity. Prang then started a business of producing deluxe Christmas cards in the early 1870s. At first he only sold them in Europe where he found a profitable market for them, and it wasn’t until 1875 that he began selling them in America. Unfortunately, due to people producing cheap imitations of his cards, he left his greeting card business and the entire industry went on a steep decline afterwards. It wasn’t until 1906 where business for American greeting cards improved and the market started gaining popularity again.
Between World War I and World War II, thanks to improved printing techniques, cards were easily produced in mass quantities, and the greeting card industry was able to help the government sell war bonds and send cards to soldiers overseas which also helped with the industry’s relationship with the US Postal Service and where they really began to work together. Another major key to the greeting card success during this era was due to color lithography, which brought an entirely new look to the cards, making them more marketable and were now in a much higher demand. This is the era where the greeting card industry really took off, and by 1950 greeting cards with funny punch lines appeared on the market and became extremely popular, and only continued to grow in popularity as we clearly see now. People soon realized that greeting cards didn’t need to just be sent for holidays or special occasions, but you could send a card for any reason or for no reason at all! So during the 1980s cards for random occasions became popular, and the industry continued to grow.
Of course we can’t forget about the introduction of technology into our lives that changed the world forever, and which also brought an entirely new medium of sending cards. Now we had ecards! Some say these are the lazy man’s way of sending cards, and even though this might have some truth to it they are convenient nonetheless, and they added yet another category of cards to the market. Now there’s a greeting card for literally every occasion you can imagine, even ones you probably haven’t even heard of. The traditional greeting card industry still continues to grow, despite the technology take over. That’s what we love about Happy Goon, we get the best of both the modern, digital world and traditional cards, so we’re lucky to be a part of a market that’s been around basically forever….but thankfully have come a long way from using wooden blocks covered in ink.