“Season's greetings “ and the Christmas card format for sending them have not always been associated with Christmas.
Greeting cards have been traced as a tradition to ancient Chinese customs of the new year, and, possibly, to early Egyptian custom, according to the Greeting Card Association.
“By the early 1400s, handmade paper greeting cards were being exchanged in Europe,” the GCA website notes. “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.”
Advances in printing, mechanization and the introduction of the postage stamp transformed Christmas cards from the obscurity of exclusivity as relatively expensive, handmade and hand-delivered gift items into a modern commercial product in the U. S. and abroad.
As with many things formal, the Christmas card is credited largely to British peerage, specifically Sir Henry Cole, illustrated by artist John Callcott Horsley in London in 1843. Cole, the creator of the Penny Post in 1840, had 2,050 of the cards printed, and he sold them for a shilling each, according to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia.
“Early English cards rarely showed winter or religious themes, instead favoring flowers, fairies and other fanciful designs that reminded the recipient of the approach of spring,” the website notes.
German immigrant Louis Prang is credited with introducing the greeting card to America in 1856, generally using lithographic reproductions of master artworks; and, by 1870, Prang introduced a deluxe edition of Christmas cards in the U.S. and Britain, expanding his line in 1875.
Changes in tastes
Imitators began to flood the market by the 1890s, and greeting cards, generally, fell into decline until the early 20th Century.
“Most of the cards by these fledgling U. S. publishers bore little relation to Prang's elaborate creations,” the AGCA website notes. “The expressed sentiment was the predominant element; the illustrated portions were incidental.”
Color lithography kept the industry alive during the Depression, and during World War II, greeting cards were an important link with home for U. S. soldiers overseas.
“This period also marked the beginning of its close relationship with the U. S. Postal Service,” the website states.
Punch line cards flourished during the post war era, giving way to “non-occasion” cards in popularity in the 1980s.
But, the computer and the digital age changed everything. Household receipts of Christmas cards declined from an average of 29 in 1987 to 20 per household in 2004, according to Journal Sentinal. And, while the U. S. Census Bureau estimates that 1.9 billion Christmas cards were sent in the U. S. in 2005, alone, manufacturers began to follow the trend of an age that has become increasingly more connected electronically.
“Some card manufacturers, such as Hallmark, now provide E-cards,” according to the GCA.
Page 2 of 3 - Hallmark
One of the most recognized brand names in the world, Hallmark began as a simple enterprise by an 18-year old J. C. Hall selling picture postcards in Kansas City, Mo., in 1910. The enterprise expanded out of necessity after Hall's brother, Rollie, joined him but the pair lost their entire inventory to a fire. The pair started anew in 1915 with a novel idea as people preferred more privacy for their correspondence than a postcard could provide... putting high-quality valentine and Christmas cards inside envelopes ready for mailing, according to the company's website.
And, with the brainchild of marketing executive Ed Goodman, who scribbled one of the world's most celebrated brand slogans onto a small notecard in 1944, “When you care enough to send the very best,” the Hallmark brand became a benchmark for the industry.
The company now markets interactive cards that allow the sender to record the card's message in their voice.
The White House list
Which gives a whole new twist to the idea of being “on” someone's Christmas card list, a practice that has been built around both family and official traditions since the 19th Century, when the British royal family issued its first cards. U. S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower began the tradition of the White House Christmas Card in 1953 and a list that has grown from a mere 2,000 “close friends” in 1961 to more than a million “on the list” in the George W. Bush administration, according to CBS News.
“The Obamas' card this year is lovely in an elegant way,” the website DC Decoder notes. “It shows a gold wreath encircling a presidential coat of arms. Inside it says, 'May your family have a joyous holiday season and a new year blessed with hope and happiness.'
How to get on the White House Christmas card list?
Simple, says, DC.
“Remember, the government does not pay for the cards,” the site notes. “The political parties do. So the best way to get one is to give money to the parties. If you want to make sure you get a card no matter who wins a presidential election, give to both.”
The website doesn't mention how many cards the President has sent out this year.
There are also Christmas cards for almost any special cause one might consider. And, they are mostly used as fundraising tools, according to Wikipedia.
“The most famous of these enterprises is probably the UNICEF Christmas card program, launched in 1949, which selects artwork from internationally known artists for card reproduction,” the site notes.
It's an entire industry in itself.
An online search for “charity christmas cards” produces a lengthy list of websites for other websites linking to dozens of charities which offer Christmas fundraising greetings, as well as sites which offer to produce custom charity fundraising Christmas cards.
Page 3 of 3 - “Give back this year with charity holiday cards and Christmas cards at …..,” one site's portal blurb notes. Another, from Britain, states, “Buying your charity Christmas cards from us means you can chose from a wide range of designs and support more than one charity this Christmas.”
And, yet another asserts, “We specialize in personalized charity Christmas greeting cards well below retail prices.”
Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside that you can be so personal at below retail prices.
Which brings us to the collectable Christmas card; it is a hobby that has had no mean enthusiasts. Britain's Queen Mary amassed a huge collection of Christmas cards which is now housed in the British Museum.
Collectable Christmas cards have their own niche, right up there with baseball cards, other assorted sports cards, Star Wars cards, and any number of kids' collectable cards.
And, they can be pricey.
The most ever paid at auction for a collectable Christmas card came in 2001 from an anonymous bidder for an original of the 1843 card produced by John C. Horsley for Sir Henry Cole. The price? Some $66,000 and change, according to the Henry Aldridge auction house in Britain.
Seasons greetings, Sir Henry.