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The History of Greetings Cards

The History of Greetings Cards

The History of Greetings Cards

History of Greetings Cards: Handmade Christmas Cards

Did you know that there’s such a thing as World Card Making Day?! It’s celebrated on the 1st Saturday in October (This year is October 7th) and reminds us to remove ourselves from the commerciality of shop bought, mass produced cards. Whether it is to celebrate a birthday, Christmas or mark any other occasion of note, the best way to show you’re thinking of the recipient is to make your own card.

In celebration of such a thoughtful event, we decided to delve a little deeper into how the humble greetings card became such a staple of our modern culture to express every kind of emotion and send our best wishes to our nearest and dearest.


The tradition of sending greetings can be traced as far back as the early Egyptians whom used papyrus scrolls to send letters and to the Ancient Chinese who exchanged messages of good will at New Years.

History of Greetings Card: Egyptian Papyrus Message

Since then many cultures have exchanged greetings cards in one form or another.

The History of Greetings Cards: A printing made from a German woodcut

Handmade greetings were being sold and exchanged across Europe, during the 1400's. In Germany, greetings were made using woodcuts. This was a time consuming printing process, where the design was hand carved into a block of wood to then create a print on paper. In Italy, more delicate handmade cards were used, especially for Valentines, when intricate lace effect filigrees were applied to the cards. The techniques at the time made the cards expensive and cards were used predominantly by the elite.

During this time the cards were used mainly for New Years and Valentines. The first known Valentines message dates back to 1415 and was from Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife, whilst he was kept captive in the Tower of London.

The History of Greetings Cards: The first Valentine
The first Valentine.


The History of Greetings Cards: The Penny Black Postage Stamp The rise in popularity of the greetings card came through a variety of factors. Advances in printing and mechanisation meant that cards could be created far cheaper and with less effort than the intricate handmade cards.

The "Penny Black" was the World's first postage stamp. When this was originally produced in 1840, removing the need for hand delivery, the greetings card was set to gain mass popularity.

In fact, only 3 years later in 1843, Sir Henry Cole decided to create the first commercial Christmas card. As a member of the higher society in Victorian England, Cole had a very long Christmas list, and found this grew longer by the year. So Cole set about creating a way to reduce the time and effort that went into writing to his extensive Christmas list. The card depicted three scenes; a family gathered celebrating Christmas, and the charitable acts of clothing the poor and of feeding the hungry. 1000 copies of the card were printed in black and white before being hand painted. Cole used all he needed and then sold the rest, making it the first commercially available Christmas card. However, the price of six pence each, did mean these were still a luxury item which the working class could not afford.

The first commercially available Christmas Card


An example of a 1940's/50's humourous Christmas card

Since the 1860’s companies have been mass producing greetings cards and with further technical developments in printing increasing the availability and lowering the price, they became readily available to all. The introduction of colour printing in the 1930’s and humorous cards (sometimes known as Studio cards) in the 1940’s and 50’s saw their popularity grow ever further.

Today, greetings cards are used the world over for every conceivable occasion. The industry is worth an estimated $7.5billion worldwide and the average person sends an amazing 55 cards a year. In recent years, there has been a move by many to use cards made by smaller companies, or handmade items which show a little more thought. How about following the trend and making your own cards this World Card Making Day? And don’t forget to make it beautiful.