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What does a greeting card mean to you?

Updated: Mar 6, 2022

A picture. A message. A piece of art. A connection.

So much can be said with a few words written onto a folded piece of paper. A simple, tactile and relatively inexpensive way to send a message to a loved one that has stood the test of time despite changes in the modern world.

The idea of sending a 'greeting' can be traced back as far as ancient civilisations like the Egyptian and Chinese dynasties where messages were exchanged on scrolls to communicate greetings. The first commercial greeting card was printed in 1846 by Henry Cole who commissioned for a Christmas card to be printed so that he could send a message of goodwill to his friends. Greeting cards grew in popularity during the Victorian era, aided by the reformation of the British Postal System and the introduction of the Uniform Penny Post which allowed post to be mailed cheaply using the first incarnations of the postage stamp, the Penny Black.

Greeting Cards have remained popular in the UK ever since, and the industry continues to flourish. The UK Greeting Card Market Report 2021 conducted by the GCA (Greeting Card Association) reported that a staggering 708 million individual cards were bought during 2020. A plethora of artists, illustrators, makers and publishers work to make the UK greeting card industry rich and diverse. For an industry that could be considered saturated, because greeting cards hail from an artistic source, there seems to be endless space for new makers to enter the market with fresh ideas, creativity and design, continually rejuvenating, adapting and reinventing how cards are bought and sent.

Traditionally greeting cards have been sent in the UK to celebrate occasions, the most popular being Christmas, Birthday, Weddings, New Baby, Valentines Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day and so on.

You may assume that in an age when technology and social media is king that Millennials and Gen Z might reject such a traditional form of communication. Rather surprisingly it would seem quite the opposite, these generations are driving sales of greeting cards more than ever. Feelings of nostalgia and a desire to embrace creativity are pushing these greeting card enthusiasts to seek out the handmade and quirky options that can be found online. With this resurgence of interest and creativity, new occasions are being embraced - from 'Galentines Day' to 'Happy Birthday to my Dog', 'Death to my 20's', 'Happily Divorce Ever After' and everything in between. The possibilities for buying and creating cards are no longer limited to the traditional occasions, but now seem endless.

Greeting Card Agent Sarah Reynolds (Sarah Jane Agency) reflects on this "As I have always said, we are in the fashion industry, card styles vary so much amongst current publishers, just like fashion, and over the years have changed dramatically, that's what makes it such a fun industry to work in".

In addition to a raft of new occasions, there is also a growing popularity for blank and general cards to simply tell someone that you are thinking of them, or that a card 'reminds' the sender of the recipient. Cards that can be sent at any time of year, on any day whenever you feel like it. Companies offering subscription boxes have flourished, particularly during the recent pandemic, with many homes now having a 'rainy day' card storage box with a supply of heartfelt blanks ready and waiting to be sent should the occasion arise.

The recent pandemic threw an interesting twist to greeting card sales in the UK, as in times of great uncertainty and isolation, people of all ages turned to the humble greeting card in order to establish connections with loved ones that they could not visit. Sarah Laker (Owner of Stationery Supplies, 2 shops in Marple and Wilmslow) told us "My greeting card sales are up 30% on pre-pandemic, a true reflection of how sending cards can help people to feel connected".

Cards too have artistic qualities. From loud pop art inspired prints, to linocut or hand drawn landscapes, cute illustrated characters and witty typographic sayings. Often I visit friends who have bought greeting cards to frame as pieces of art to be placed in a kitchen, bathroom or hallway.

In a positive move, as the planet becomes more environmentally aware, so too do the publishers and consumers for greeting cards, with a big shift over the past 5 years towards sustainability, use of recycled materials and plastic free packaging. Declining are the traditionally cello wrapped options, being replaced by clasped or nested variations in supermarkets and independent retailers across the UK.

But why are cards so popular? There is still something nostalgically exciting about receiving something by post, and aside from the initial joy of receiving a card, it is refreshing in such digital times to receive something tactile. A card can be kept, treasured, framed, placed into a box as a physical and emotional memory. Reading a card years after it has been sent is one of the purest forms of recalling a memory or a feeling from times gone by.

So in answer to the question: what does a greeting card mean to you?

Probably a lot more than you realise.


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