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The Evolution Of Mailable Art - The E-Card

When I was a child my mother was in charge of "The Christmas List". This was a long list of names and addresses of the people my father worked with and, of course, our relatives and friends. It was my mother who was responsible for choosing the cards and addressing the envelopes. I can remember her setting at the table late at night hand writing a personal message with each Christmas card. It took several nights for her to complete the list. After the cards were sent out, our house became filled with anticipation. We would receive a card from everyone on that list. There was such excitement when the mailman walked up to the house and put one of those Christmas cards in our mailbox. This was the 1950's and like everyone else we hung each card on the wall like little pieces of art. Because to us these cards were little pieces of mailable art. But how did the idea of sending and receiving Christmas greeting cards get started anyway?

John Horsley produced the first commercial Christmas card in London, England in December 1843. He manufactured one thousand cards. It was a three-paneled card. The center panel pictured an opulent Christmas celebration and the two end panels showed scenes of the poor and hungry. The artwork on his card wasn't very well received. The obvious contrast between the poor and the rich angered the public so much that Horsley withdraw the card from the market. However the idea of giving Christmas cards as well as postcards caught on and eventually traveled to America. The art on Christmas cards has evolved over the years too. The earliest cards pictured mistletoe and holly, Santa Claus was added in the 1850's and the Christmas tree in the 1890's. Most cards were imported from Germany until World War I. Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward advertised and sold large numbers of these imported cards from 1907-1917. Hallmark (originally Hall Brothers Inc.) and American Greetings got their start in the early 1900's and card giving even endured the depression when gift giving became progressively difficult. The musical card is not a new idea either; it was first made before World War I.

I wonder if Mr. Horsley would recognize some of the Christmas cards that we are sending today. The cards I am referring to are, of course, the online e-cards. In some ways e-cards aren't much different from the old-fashioned greeting cards. The main feather of the card is still the artwork. Except today the artwork is digital, the mailman is the World Wide Web, and that long list of names and addresses has been converted into a digital address book. I don't know if the custom of sending Christmas cards by old-fashioned snail mail will pass into oblivion along with 8-Track tapes, but the advantages of the digital world has put a new spin on the old idea of sending and receiving Christmas greetings. Some of the better known commercial e-card sites are Blue Mountain.com, 123Greetings.com, AmericanGreetings.com, Hallmark.com, and D-Cards by DisneyOnline.com. Have a happy holiday.

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