When cleaning my desk in my home office I came upon a birthday card from my second born son and his wife. I had set this card aside after initially receiving it in January 2013. When I received it, I couldn’t fully focus on it with others around. I knew though that I wanted to read and save it with other special memories. It was vintage pretty and its words had struck a chord in me. They were telling me that all my efforts as a mom were appreciated and that I had made a difference in their lives–what more could a mother want or wish for from her children?
Stored away in one of several cardboard boxes in an unfinished attic, I found rare old family pictures and many other sentimental items, including greeting cards from times past.
These cards were not just your every day “read and toss” cards with envelopes that now cost $4-6.00. No–these were vintage cards measuring about 8″ x 10″. They were made of satin and silk materials, beautiful pastel colors and were padded to add a life-like dimension of the adorning flowers. I could still smell the floral scents on some of the cards bringing back memories of when they were given and received. The ribbons and bows were just as perfectly draped and tied as the day they were assembled. And the reason they were in such great condition is that each card came packaged in its own high-grade laminate coated and acid-free box or tin.
The dates on these cards ranged from the early 1940’s prior to my parents’ marriage and into the late 1950’s early 1960’s. The occasions for giving were usually Birthday, Valentine’s, Mother’s Day, or Christmas. All of these cards were bought by my dad and given to my mom. And, always accompanying them was two pair of boxed silk nylons with dark seams up the center backs and a large, heart-shaped box of chocolates.
Greeting cards from times gone by can be windows into society. We can look at them and think about what the world must have been like at that time and how did people really see themselves? Everything about each card–its design, colors, typefaces, and printed messages-was indicative of the times in which it was made.
The Museum of American History`s Archives Center has several greeting card collections to document their history. The largest is the Norcross Greeting Card Collection, which the Smithsonian acquired after Windsor Communication Inc., Norcross` parent company, stopped producing cards (about 1980). This collection contains cards and records of the Norcross and Rust Craft card companies, greeting cards from 1880-1900 and a small number of modern cards by other manufacturers from 1920 to 1980.
Craig Orr, archivist with the Museum of American History, and volunteer Ann Behning, former greeting-card shop owner, arranged the massive Norcross collection of cards by occasion, date and serial number, then stored them in more than 1,700 acid-free boxes. Orr estimates the collection contains nearly half a million cards.
Smithsonian Colleague, Fath Davis Ruffins says: “By studying cards that span several generations,” you can detect the differences in society and see changes in people’s styles, attitudes, and ideas.”
And I firmly believe that many of the commercial and online greeting cards of today are purchased and sent as more of an obligation or 11th-hour thought. The one exception to today’s sending of Happy Birthday messages might be the barrage of birthday messages that come online from Facebook friends. It’s amazing how these Facebook well wishes pump me up on my birthday. But for the most part, simpler times of the past are when people really shared their personal feelings through thought-filled tasks and giving. And now we have come full circle in my story of greeting cards. And, I will close by saying that I recognize just how fortunate I am to be a member of a very loving family. And, if I missed your birthday this year, I just want to say “Happy Birthday, and may you have many more!”
About Greeting Cards – General Facts- From the American Greeting Card Association:
- Americans purchase approximately 6.5 billion greeting cards each year. Annual retail sales of greeting cards are estimated between $7 and $8 billion.
- The most popular Everyday card-sending occasion by far is Birthday, followed by a number of secondary occasions that include Sympathy, Thank You, Wedding, Thinking of You, Get Well, New Baby and Congratulations.
- The most popular Seasonal cards are Christmas cards, with some 1.6 billion units purchased (including boxed cards). This is followed by cards for Valentine’s Day (145 million units, not including classroom valentines), Mother’s Day (133 million units), Father’s Day (90 million units), Graduation (67 million units), Easter (57 million units), Halloween (21 million units), Thanksgiving (15 million units) and St. Patrick’s Day (7 million units).
- Women purchase an estimated 80% of all greeting cards. Women spend more time choosing a card than men and are more likely to buy several cards at once.
- Greeting card prices can vary from 50 cents to $10 – with a price point for every consumer. The vast majority are between $2 and $4. (Total price per year include boxed cards.) The cost of a typical counter card, however, is between $2 and $4. Cards featuring special techniques, intricate designs and new technologies and innovations – such as the inclusion of sound chips and LED lights – as well as handmade cards, are at the top of the price scale.
- Seven out of 10 card buyers surveyed consider greeting cards “absolutely” or “almost” essential to them. Eight out of 10 of these buyers expect their purchases to remain the same going forward. Of the balance, twice as many card buyers say they will “increase” their purchasing as say they will “decrease” their purchasing in the coming year.
- Younger card buyers and those who are more technology savvy are currently the ones most engaged in buying paper greeting cards online.
- Most people now acknowledge many more birthdays than ever before because of Facebook, but they aren’t necessarily sending fewer cards as a result.
- The tradition of giving greeting cards as a meaningful expression of personal affection for another person is still being deeply ingrained in today’s youth, and this tradition will likely continue as they become adults and become responsible for managing their own important relationships.