A Very Brief History of the Greeting Card
Believe it or not, the tradition of sending greeting cards is very, very old. Not just 15th-century England old, but Roman and Egyptian old. During the new year in Ancient Egypt, friends would exchange gifts with the words “all good luck” inscribed on them during the New Year. The Egyptians used papyrus scrolls to send letters to one another. In Ancient China, people would also send greetings to each other to celebrate the New Year.
Fast forward a few thousand years, and people in 15th century Europe began exchanging block prints for Christmas and New Year. Master engravers would meticulously carve images and inscriptions on wood and then print them on paper. In the pre-printing press world, this was arduous and expensive work.
In the 15th and 16th centuries, Valentine’s Day cards began to circulate. According to one story, the first Valentine was sent by the Duke of Orleans to his wife in 1415. Another version of this history suggests that the tradition began a millennium before, in pre-Christian Rome. Either way, by the 16th century, Valentine’s cards began to be printed. Then, in the 1800s, with the introduction of affordable methods of sending mail in England and the United States, their popularity increased.
The first actual Christmas card, as we know it today, was printed in 1843. Mass production of greeting cards for Valentine’s and Christmas began in the 1860s. The Industrial Revolution decreased the cost of production and therefore allowed more people to participate in the tradition of sending cards for special occasions.
In the 1870s, Louis Prang, a German immigrant in Boston, began selling albums of cards with images of birds and flowers. His cards were a success both in America and abroad. During the World Wars, exchanging greeting cards became an established American tradition.
Today we use greeting cards to commemorate special occasions and holidays. There are cards for graduation, weddings, birthdays, and even half-birthdays. Despite the convenience of the internet, the tradition of sending cards remains. Perhaps this is because they are thoughtful and so fun to receive. In an era when it takes two seconds to send a quick “hbd” (happy birthday) text, greeting cards give us a moment to slow down. In our ever-accelerating world, a greeting card says, I’ve taken time out of my day to think of you.
And, let’s be honest, they’re also very pretty.