Greeting Card History

You buy them, you receive them, and you collect them, but have you ever wondered about the origin of the greeting card? Greeting card history goes back farther in time than you would think. Greeting cards have been a force around the world since ancient eras and their purpose remains the same today. Modern greeting cards haven’t changed much since then, proof of their lasting legacy.


Greeting card history started in ancient China, during the Chinese New Year. They were used to convey messages of joy and happiness. Chinese New Year itself is an interesting holiday. It started out over 4,000 years ago and celebrates the first 15 days of the Chinese calendar. During those 15 days, many types of celebrations were had and as tradition, deities and ancestors were honored. They also had parades and used fireworks to celebrate, things that we recognize today. The general theme was wellness and prosperity. The event itself originates from the mythology of Nian.

Greeting Card History- Dragon & Knight

Nian was a horrible beast that would terrorize villages on the first day of the new year. To get revenge against the Nian and protect their families, villagers abused its fear of loud noises and the color red to ward off Nian. That is why the color red and fireworks are so prevalent in the celebrations. As the tradition aged, more things were added to it, including the advent of greeting cards. Greeting cards were handmade then and were personally delivered to the recipient. Chinese, however, weren’t the only ancient society to exchange greetings, the Egyptians also had a type of card they exchanged.


In Egypt, they also celebrated the beginning of their own new year and various seasons. The lifestyle along the Nile was centered on farming, so they celebrated the harvest. During the festivities, they would exchange gifts and personalized messages on papyrus. Papyrus is a paper like material made from the papyrus plant. This is also a very old tradition and could be older than the Chinese card exchange, but exact dates are unknown. These two card traditions carried on for a long time in their own area and didn’t spread until thousands of years later.


By the 15th century, various countries through Europe had started exchanging greeting cards. Handmade cards were exchanged for various holidays. The first, most popular use of greeting cards in Europe was for Valentine’s Day. The New Year celebration was also a popular holiday for greeting cards. However at this time in history, only the elite could afford to exchange greeting cards, as paper was expensive and it took a large amount of time to make and deliver one. Greeting cards were a status symbol due to their expensive nature. This continued for a long time, until the beginning of the industrial revolution. Printing became more affordable and widespread. Paper also had plummeted in price as time went by. Also the creation of the postage stamp had been the final piece to make greeting cards widespread. The man who invented the stamp, Henry Cole, also created the first Christmas card for his friends and family.

Greeting Card History- Valentine's Day Card


Christmas cards, at the time, were still handmade and not available to working class. It wasn’t until nearly a century later that they were widely available. The reason Christmas cards and other cards lowered in price was because of advances in the technology of lithography. Lithography is a form of printing that takes something drawn with wax, oil, or another suitable material and presses it on to a rock or smooth metal. The metal is then treated with acid to remove the portion of rock not covered in the wax, oil, etc. Then ink would be placed onto the stone and used to print on to a paper. By the early 20th century, lithography had been improved to print in color. This led to the biggest boom in the greeting card industry.


Now greeting cards are a popular and profitable industry, especially in the U.S. and the U.K. The total spending on greeting cards in those two countries alone totals around $10,000,000,000. The U.K. has the highest greeting card rate per capita, they send nearly 55 greeting cards per person every year. The industry has grown into a widespread success.


Greeting card history includes a legacy that lasts for thousands of years. Going from ancient China and Egypt through Renaissance Europe to the industrialized world to modern times. Greeting cards have greatly impacted how our society interacts and conveys messages of joy.

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