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Greeting Cards: What, When, and How

Ajitesh Biswas -- We may enjoy receiving them more than we enjoy writing them. But have you ever wondered about the history of sending greeting cards, paper or digital?

Whenever you need to wish your friends or acquaintances a happy or belated birthday, wish your near and dear ones Merry Christmas, send your beloved happy Valentines Day wishes, say hello or give a "get well soon" message to your bosom friend, you just go to a greeting card outlet or visit an online greeting card Web site and send the desired card.

Have you ever wondered what greeting cards are all about and how they originated? If you want to know, this article is for you.

So, let's start with what a greeting card is. Greeting cards originated from postcards (which are single-sided without the fold), becoming an illustrated, folded card usually featuring a message of greeting or other sentiment. They can be either printed or handmade. With the advent of the Internet, virtual greetings cards have evolved and do not fit the above mentioned definition.

Although greeting cards are usually given on special occasions such as birthdays, Christmas, or other holidays, they are also sent on "non-occasions" to say "hello" or "thank you". They are manufactured and/or hand-made by hundreds of companies, big and small.

Today, Hallmark Cards and American Greetings are the largest producers of greeting cards in the U.S. In the UK more cards are sent per head than in any other nation. The UK continues as a world leader in this area, as well as in greeting card design.

What laid the foundation for the greeting card industry, and when and how did it all began?

The custom of sending greeting cards can be traced back to the ancient Chinese, who exchanged messages of good will to celebrate the New Year, and to the early Egyptians, who conveyed their greetings on papyrus scrolls.

By the early 1400s, handmade paper greeting cards were being exchanged in Europe. The Germans are known to have printed New Year's greetings from woodcuts as early as 1400, and handmade paper Valentines were being exchanged in various parts of Europe in the early to mid-1400s.

However, by the 1850s, the greeting card had been transformed from a relatively expensive, handmade, and hand-delivered gift to a popular and affordable means of personal communication, due largely to advances in printing and mechanization.

This trend continued, fueled by new trends like Christmas cards, the first of which appeared in published form in London in 1843 when Sir Henry Cole hired artist John Calcott Horsley to design a holiday card that he could send to his friends and acquaintances. Technical developments like color lithography in 1930 propelled the manufactured greeting card industry forward.

During the 1980s the trend began to turn, with consumers increasingly looking for greeting cards that were different from the standard offering. In the late 1990s the market was clearly beginning to separate into three different segments:

1. handmade and premium cards;
2. mass-manufactured cards;
3. e-cards.

So, this is how the greetings card industry began and flourished. Though the current trend is to send greetings through e-cards, there remains the need to sustain the traditional greetings card industry and to maintain the age-old tradition of sending greetings card via conventional means.

This article was written by Ajitesh Biswas for, a free online greeting card site offering free e-cards for various occasions, events, and emotions.

© 2006 Ajitesh Biswas

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