There were actually greeting cards in existence during ancient times. The history of greeting cards seems to begin with the ancient Chinese who first exchanged cards to celebrate holidays and special occasions. Ancient Egyptians were also known to send greeting cards. They used papyrus scrolls to exchange messages of good will.
Papyrus is a thick paper-like substance made from the stems of the papyrus plant. It wasn’t until the late 1300s that greeting cards made from paper began to circulate on the European continent. European cards were printed from woodcuts at that time, and it was then that paper Valentines were created and exchanged by the wealthy.
In the mid-1800s greeting cards were transformed from very expensive gifts to items most folks could afford. This was because the printing press made mass production possible. The creation of postage stamps in 1840 helped the popularity of the greeting card, as well. The earliest Christmas card appeared in 1843 in London. A wealthy aristocrat had an artist design the Christmas card he would send to his peers. Even though the first Valentine cards could be traced back to 1415, but it wasn’t until the 1800s that they became popular and inexpensive.
When a German immigrant named, “Louis Prang” began a small lithographic company in Massachusetts in 1856 it set off the rise of the American greeting card industry in this country. It was the start of the American greeting card business as we know it today. When cheap, imitation imports began to flood the American market in the 1890s it forced Prang to abandon his greeting card publishing business.
The closure of his business marked the first decline in American greeting card production … but it didn’t last. In 1906 the business climate for greeting cards in the U.S. improved. Many of today’s leading greeting card companies were founded at that time. The new companies could not match Prang’s elaborate creations. The card companies felt that the expressed messages were more important than the card illustrations.
The 1930s brought in the widespread use of color lithography and it propelled the American greeting card industry toward the successes most card companies enjoy today. Growth and expansion was the name of the game.
There was a shift in greeting cards in the 1950s. The studio-card made an appearance and became a big hit with the public. It was a long card with a short message or punch line. The element of humor was introduced to the U.S. greeting card.
The American greeting card industry really took off in the 1990s with the outstanding growth of electronic technology. Technology and the Internet gave rise to the E-card which was a brand new way of card-sending and advanced the card industry like never before in its history.