At one time, greeting cards were commonplace; they were a great way to communicate with acquaintances, friends and family and let them know that you are thinking of them for whatever reason. Nowadays, the use of greeting cards seems to be on the decline, which is a shame. In order to understand this custom and the importance that it holds, you need to go back to the start. Read on to learn more about the history of greeting cards.
In truth, the origin of greeting cards as they appear today is difficult to pinpoint. This is because passing written sentiments to one another can be traced back to the invention of writing. Archaeologists have discovered clay tablets dating back to the Sumerian culture sometime between 3000 and 2000 BC, with what is thought to be words of greeting inscribed upon them.
There is also similar evidence of well-wishing in ancient Egypt and bronze-age China. The personalized messages were sent with the intention of imparting good luck upon the recipient for the new year and warding off evil spirits. This tradition is still an important part of the Chinese New Year celebrations.
In Egypt, on the other hand, there further evidence of personalization’s in these greetings. There are named individuals sending their well wishes to other named individuals. However, in contrast to the Chinese tradition, these well wishes do not appear to be designed to ward off evil but simply celebrate the new year.
The Invention of Paper
Paper was invented around 100 AD in China, and it became the medium of choice for personalized messages as its use travelled along the Silk Road to other cultures. Its use around the New Year continued. This is because, in western cultures, it was used to offer well wishes and good luck for the upcoming harvest year.
Presents sometimes accompanied the paper in the form of wood carvings or other small handmade trinkets. It was only really around the 14th century in Germany when the first iterations of what society today would recognize as greeting cards were found; they were still solely for the new year. However, at this time, they were reserved almost exclusively for upper classes thanks to their price.
Greeting Cards & National Holidays
It was then during the 15th century that greeting cards began to diversify. Instead of being limited to well wishes for the new year, they began to be exchanged for other reasons and during other periods. One of the first being the celebration of the feast of St. Valentine. In fact, one of the cards given during this period is considered the oldest Valentine’s love letter written; it was from a woman named Margery Brews to her fiancé in the year 1477.
Despite the fact that greeting cards were diversifying in their purpose and occasion, they were still rather inaccessible to the layperson because of their expense. They were created in low numbers to accommodate this, not like the mass production of greeting cards seen today. They only began to see a rise in their numbers during the mid-19th century. This is simply because the process was mechanized, which made it easier to produce large numbers of greeting cards.
The mass production of greeting cards came at just the right time. During the same period, postal routes were improved, and postal rates became more affordable, which helped to make the whole sending greeting cards thing more accessible to all members of society. They also continued to vary their use, with cards being produced for a number of occasions.
The cards themselves also seemed to become more and more elaborately decorated too. Designers were hired to create artwork specifically for the greeting cards. The cards mostly focused on Christmas and the New Year, although Valentine’s cards were still popular too. A lot of greeting card companies began to invest more in the design of their cards. By the 1870s, however, greeting cards encompassed all of the classic holidays that they do today.
Greetings Cards Today
Between then and now, there has been very little evolution in the industry. There are now more cards than ever that can be sent for any number of reasons, but the buying and sending process remains largely unchanged. One of the biggest greeting card companies in the world was formed in 1910 in Kansas City, America.
Hallmark today is synonymous with holidays like Christmas. The business prides itself on being wholesome and family-orientated, and thanks to its success, they have diversified beyond greetings cards, having their own television channel and creating movies and generating other content and products.
However, in recent years, the purchase of greetings cards from traditional retailers has seen a steady decline. The younger generations today seem to be far less interested in sending greeting cards in the traditional manner; the question is, why? Do the younger generations not have the same soft spot for sentimentality?
Truthfully, the rise of the digital era has a lot to answer for in terms of the traditional approach to greeting cards declining. Firstly, social media and mobile phones have meant that you can get in contact with a person directly to deliver your well wishes as opposed to the past when letter writing was the primary form of communication. Today you can reach out directly, which somewhat negates the need for greetings cards.
There are obviously still young people today who enjoy the sentimentality of sending cards and respect the tradition. However, they don’t tend to approach it in the same way. There are a number of companies today that allow you to choose a card design and fully customize it to your specifications. The company then also sends out the card on your behalf.
This is perhaps the biggest difference; people today are sending cards without ever having had them in their physical possession first. Cards today are often sent via these companies that act like a proxy. Some people could be under the impression that this adds extra unnecessary steps. But this isn’t the case.
Ordering, writing out and sending a card online can be done in just a few steps. The convenience is unparalleled. These sites also offer help and advice too. For example, Greenvelope can be used to send the cards themselves, but they also have a number of resources, including tips on what you should write whether you are sending a speedy recovery card, a condolence card or whatever the occasion may be.
Lastly, in addition to being able to send physical cards via the internet, there has also been a rise in the use of e-cards. These cards exist solely in the digital landscape. They can be sent via email or other digital platforms. They were preferred for a while, but they can feel a little more impersonal, and they don’t allow for keepsakes, either.
Expressing well wishes and giving greetings to friends and family has always been done in one form or another; originally, it was passed along verbally. Then with the invention of writing, it was done this way, regardless of whether you believe that expressing well wishes can help to ward off evil spirits or you simply want to express a sentiment. A greeting card can be an excellent way to do it. The tradition continues to endure; it is simply done in a different way.