Greeting cards have an interesting evolution—people have loved them throughout the millennia. Although just about everything one can purchase can be found online, printed greeting cards are still enjoying robust popularity, especially during the holidays. And, yes, one can also send a digital greeting card, and some of those are quite entertaining. But many of us still want to experience the look and feel of the traditional paper variety.
With roots stretching back to ancient China and Egypt, the printed greeting card business is exploding as paper makes a notable comeback. According to the Boston Globe, millennials are buying more greeting cards than the baby boomers, perhaps as an antidote to the digital age. Thousands of letterpress and other paper card businesses have sprouted up across the country, offering a unique look that also commands a higher price. In more elaborate examples such as cards with buttons appended, glittered and otherwise embellished, specialty cards have become the gift.
Reindeer Greeting Card by Bison Bookbinding and Letterpress
Digital cards have come a long way since the 1990s electronic postcards. Some are free and some require a subscription service, from the humorous (Zazzle and Someecards) to elegant and animated, like Jacquie Larson.
In honor of the season and the sentiment greeting cards express, we offer this historical timeline of greeting cards, in all their printed and digital glory, compiled from greetingcard.org, Wikipedia and NPR.org.
- BCE: In Ancient China, messages of goodwill were exchanged and early Egyptians conveyed greetings on papyrus scrolls
- 1400’s: Europeans begin exchanging handmade greeting cards.
- 1800’s: Valentine’s cards become popular and affordable.
- 1840: The postage stamp is introduced.
- 1843: First known Christmas card is published in London.
- 1849: Esther Howland becomes the first regular publisher of Valentines in the U.S. and sells her first handmade Valentine.
- Mid 1800’s: Victorian greeting cards become popular in Europe.
- 1856: German immigrant Louis Prang opens a small lithographic business near Boston, and America’s greeting card industry begins.
- 1875: Prang introduces the first complete line of Christmas cards in America.
- 1941: A small group of publishers establish the Greeting Card Industry.
- 1970s: Recycled Paper Greetings, a small company competing with large card companies begins publishing humorous "whimsical" card designs.
- 1980s: There’s a thriving market for "alternative" greeting cards, and the name sticks even though these alternative cards chang the look of the entire industry.
- 1994: First E-cards, in the form of an electronic postcard.
- 2005 to present: With Etsy and other e-commerce sites, small publishers usher in a wave of creativity such as letterpress, die-cut cards and pop-ups.