Stillwater News Press

January 6, 2014

Greeting card industry born in ancient Chinese messages

By Elizabeth Keys
Stillwater NewsPress

STILLWATER, Okla. — “Happy New Year!,” rings in the calendar change with revelry and festive traditions. Historical records reveal that the ancient Chinese were the first to send written sentiments regaling a new year, according to Aimee Bryant, director of the Sheerar Museum of Stillwater History.

“These greetings were sent during the New Year to ward off the wild beast in Chinese legend called Nien which is a name that translates to mean new year,” Bryant said.

Fireworks were later invented to frighten away this beast and the tradition of greeting cards continued with a bang, too, with the Sheerar Museum reviewing the tradition in an exhibit on display through Feb. 14.

“The exhibit features greeting cards from the Sheerar’s collection dating to the early part of the twentieth century,” Bryant said.

From the Chinese fears, the greeting card industry has grown to an $8 billion industry with 75 percent of cards sent during the Christmas season which extends to Epiphany on Jan. 6.

Sheerar docent Lou Levitz said it is fascinating going back in time to see the depth of the greeting card tradition. Most were homemade with Egyptian societies exchanging greeting cards in the form of messages of goodwill scrawled on paper of papyrus scrolls. Early Germans printed greetings on wood cuts.

“Cards were painted individually, hand delivered and quite expensive,” Levitz said.

With advances in printing processes, the commercialization of cards began with many businesses embracing the season as a way to express thanks to their customers.

“We have examples from Stillwater businesses with Hinkel’s Book Shop and Eskimo Joe’s greeting cards,” he said.

Sheerar Museum board hospitality chairman Ann Enix still makes her greeting cards by hand, sending out nearly 150 personally crafted cards each year.

“Sometimes I do weavings or counted cross stitch in a cutout mounted in the card,” Enix said.

Gayle Robinson, founding Sheerar Museum board member, said she often sends cards that support a cause such as the children’s designs from MD Anderson Cancer Treatment Center or the Humane Society.

Even though Enix personally designs her cards, she completes some of the writing on the computer and Levitz believes that is the future of greeting cards.

“Electronic cards that’s what we’re seeing more of now — and they have music and all kinds of images for great creations,” Levitz said. “E-cards are the future.”

For a look at the history of New Year’s greetings and other occasions including Valentine’s Day, Easter, Mother’s Day, Veterans Day and Christmas, stop by the Sheerar Museum of Stillwater History, 702 S. Duncan, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 1-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.