Sending greeting cards to friends and family is a tradition that goes back about 200 years. They were mostly sent by the elite and wealthy in the early to mid 1800’s. Most of the early greeting cards were hand delivered and many were quite expensive, but they soon gained mass popularity with the introduction of the world’s first postage stamp issued in 1840 and a few ambitious printer’s and manufacturer’s perfecting printing methods, hiring artists and designed both elaborate expensive cards as well as simple affordable ones by the 1850’s.
As you visit our galleries you will see that cards of the past were fine pieces of art. Manufacturer’s used quality artists and many of the large manufacturer’s held “art” competitions to generate interest and to get new ideas for cards. Some of these competitions awarded as much as $1,000.00 to the winner!
The oldest known greeting card in existence is a Valentine made in the 1400’s and is in the British Museum. New Year’s cards can be dated back to this period as well, but the New Year greeting didn’t gain popularity until the late 1700’s. The Valentine and Christmas Card were the most popular cards, with Valentine’s offering us the most “mechanical”, “pop-up” and filigree cards, followed by Christmas, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Halloween and Thanksgiving. Cards gained their highest popularity in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s offering us cards with some of the most unusual art. The Victorian age give us the most prolific cards.
Valentine greetings were popular as far back as the Middle Ages, when lovers said or sang their Valentines. Written Valentines began to appear after 1400. Paper Valentines were exchanged in Europe where they were given in place of Valentine gifts. Handmade paper Valentines were especially popular in England. In the mid to early 1800’s, Valentines began to be assembled in factories. Early manufactured Valentines were black and white pictures painted by workers in a factory. Esther Howland (see below) known as the Mother of the Valentine made fancy Valentines with real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures known as “scrap”. She introduced the Paper Lace Valentine in the mid 1800’s. By the end of the 1800’s, Valentines were being made entirely by machine.
Christmas cards were introduced and popularized by John Calcott Horsley, the artist of what is known as the world’s first Christmas Card and Louis Prang, known as the Father of the American Christmas Card.
The rest is History. With the exchange of New Year’s, Valentine’s, Easter, St. Patrick’s Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Birthday Cards, just to name a few, there is probably no occasion that doesn’t have its own greeting card!