|Why Greeting Cards?
More about my Project
It’s hard to imagine a holiday or special occasion without greeting cards.
Children make them in school. Adults send and receive dozens every year.
For a century, cards have marked the milestones of American lives,
showcasing our values and customs and carrying our deepest thoughts in times
of grief or joy.
Look at a cross-section of cards for 1915, 1925, or 1935, and you’ll not only
see what occasions we celebrated, but also what we found funny or
fashionable, what we thought about politics and social issues, how we
regarded women, minorities, and foreigners, and what fads and new
inventions were all the rage. Cards commented on all these topics in
humorous or sentimental ways, using whatever was latest in printing
technology and the graphic arts.
The stories of card creators are likewise part of the tale of the 20th century.
To name just one example, the expansion of business opportunities for women
is illustrated by the number of small women-owned card companies that
flourished between the turn of the century and World War II. (At least two
different female publishers literally turned their crank-operated clothes-
wringers into printing presses!)
The years from 1900-1939 were a crucial period in which cards evolved
from Victorian-era chromolithographs (where words and signatures had little
importance and were often omitted entirely) to the kind of person-to-person
messages, sent in envelopes, that we know today. During this time, the
companies that defined and dominated card publishing for most of the century
were founded; major new holidays such as Mother’s Day came into being;
and conventions (such as the use of the poinsettia as a Christmas symbol, the
linking of the color blue with boy babies and pink for girls on birth
announcements, and the idea of children making greeting cards in school)
However, in spite of the window they can open on the past, 20th-century
greeting cards have been all but ignored by scholars and the public. This lack
of awareness is a serious threat to our ability to recreate the story of greeting
cards in these early years. A handful of the many companies founded then still
exist — for instance, Hallmark and American Greetings — but most went out
of business long ago. In a very few cases, records from pioneering firms have
found their way into archives or historical societies. By and large, however,
the tale of the artists and publishers who established the industry has been
preserved (if at all) in bits and pieces by the individuals themselves, or by
friends and family members who are now elderly.
These important memories and materials are vanishing each day as the people
who knew the key figures “downsize” or even pass away. Unaware that their
family stories or keepsakes hold special historical value, descendants allow
vital clues to slip away, rather than passing them on. An unknown number of
cards and related materials have already been thrown out, disposed of at
estate sales, rejected as donations by museum curators who do not understand
their significance, or sold piece by piece by antique paper dealers.
For several years, I've worked to bring early-20th-century greeting cards to
more widespread attention through my research, lectures, and magazine
articles (a list is below). My mission now is to produce a comprehensive
book on greeting cards in America between the start of the century and World
War II – a book that shows how every card encapsulates a little piece of
American history, and that will discuss the remarkable people who helped
make cards part of everyday life. Please help me capture their stories before
they vanish forever! Contact me if you have information that might be a piece
of the puzzle. Please email me at anne@Early20thCenturyCards.org.
Some of my publications related to greeting cards:
1. “A First Look at Arts and Crafts Greeting Cards,” The Magazine
Antiques, 164:6 (December 2003): 62-71.
2. “Greetings from the 20th Century: How the Arts and Crafts Movement
Helped Launch a Billion-Dollar Worldwide [Greeting Card] Industry” Style
1900, 16:4 (Fall/Winter 2003): 48-55.
3. “The Arts and Crafts Greeting Card, 1908-1925: A First Look” M.A.
thesis, New School University, 2002.
4. “Very Collectible Volland.” Style 1900, 18:4 (Fall/Winter 2005-2006): 58-
5. “Amy M. Sacker: Designer & Teacher--A Link in an Arts and Crafts
Chain,” The Tabby, 2:1 (Spring 2005): 20-53.