The History of Greeting Cards

The history of greeting cards from their early Chinese and Egyptian origins to Europe and the U.S.

The history of greeting cards dates back to the ancient Chinese who exchanged messages of goodwill to celebrate a New Year, and to early Egyptians who used papyrus scrolls to send greetings. Key dates in greeting card history include:

  • 1400’s: Europeans begin selling and exchanging handmade greeting cards, including Valentine’s Day cards (1415)
  • 1775: Members of the Second Continental Congress appoint a Postmaster General for the United Colonies, creating the U.S. Post Office Department (predecessor to the United States Postal Service – USPS) on July 26. The USPS is the second oldest federal department or the U.S.
  • 1800’s: Valentine’s cards become popular and affordable; the Penny Post debuts. Click here to look at some card samples from that time period. 
  • 1840: Postage stamp is introduced.
  • 1843: First known Christmas card is published in London when Sir Henry Cole hires artist John Calcott Horsley to design a holiday card for his friends.
  • 1849: Esther Howland becomes the first regular publisher of valentines in the U.S. and sells her first handmade Valentine. Howland establishes a successful publishing firm specializing in elaborately decorated cards.
  • 1856: German immigrant Louis Prang opens a small lithographic business near Boston, and America’s greeting card industry begins. The GCA recognizes the Father of the American Christmas Card with its annual LOUIE Awards, the definitive competition of the greeting card and social expression industry.
  • 1866: By this time, Prang perfected the color lithographic process, as shown in his reproductions of famous paintings, surpassing the quality produced by craftsmen in the U.S. and England.
  • 1870s (early): Prang publishes deluxe editions of Christmas cards, sold mainly in England.
  • 1875: Prang introduces the first complete line of Christmas cards in America.
  • 1941: A small group of publishers, under the leadership of George Burkhardt of Burkhardt-Warner, established the Greeting Card Industry, predecessor of today’s Greeting Card Association.
  • 1943: The association cooperated with the Post Office, later to become the United States Postal Service, on the first “Mail Early” Christmas campaign.