Tracing the evolution of Greeting Cards

No matter which country you belong to, everybody is familiar with greeting cards. Christmas, New Years and Valentines have been the biggest occasions for buying and sending of cards.

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These have a long history, embedded in ancient traditions. In China, a wild beast named Nien was believed to attack and kill villagers at the end of each year and so Chinese folk exchanged good wishes to each other to ward off this evil. Egyptians used papyrus scrolls to send greetings to each other.

So, modern day greeting cards are the descendants of their Chinese and Egyptian counterparts.

It was in the early 1400s that Europe saw handmade paper cards being exchanged but their popularity increased only in the 1700s. The Germans were the first to create printed cards which involved carving wood pieces, rubbing ink over them and stamping them onto paper. This took efforts and was time-consuming.

Earlier greeting cards were hand-made, hand-delivered and expensive; but with the advancement in printing technology and especially, the introduction of the postage stamp in 1840, their use grew in large numbers.

The first known Christmas card was printed in London in 1843, when Sir Henry Cole hired an artist- John Horsley to design a holiday card to be sent to near and dear ones.

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Apart from industrialization, an important postal reform contributed to the large-scale exchange of greeting cards. The Penny Postage Act passed in 1840 in Britain allowed the sending of cards by post for only a penny.

We know that costs of postage generally depend on distance or weight of the item being sent, but once that was taken out of the equation (for greeting cards), it was possible for everybody to send wishes to friends and family, even over long distances at affordable costs. By 1870, the number of card publishers in England and Europe grew as more and more people bought them.

The American greeting card industry began in 1875 when Louis Prang started a lithographic business in Boston and introduced a complete line of Christmas cards in America. Eventually, various card publishers opened shop in the US.

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In 1906 and 1910, the two American greeting card giants- American Greetings and Hallmark were born. These today have annual revenues of over $1.9 billion and $3.7 billion respectively.

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Pop up cards, musical cards, glittery decorated cards, you name it, you have it. Over the years, exchange of greeting cards has become an important and almost indispensable custom on special occasions. The 1950s and 1960s saw a boom in the card industry. In 1962, the US post office issued Christmas stamps, making greeting cards an official part of festivities.

Publishers expanded their reach with time, producing cards in multiple languages in various countries and for culture-specific holidays.

With the advent of the Internet, e-cards became a new trend. The digital greetings gave people the option to customize their cards, write their own messages, put personal photographs and were eco-friendly as well.

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Printing cards for festivals or days that are comparatively less popular would not be cost-effective. But digital greeting cards have made it possible to create cards for almost every single day that has some significance.

Be it the traditional greeting card with a matching envelope, or an e-card sent via email, the card making companies are hard at work; even hiring people to write messages for them!