English Springer Spaniel Christmas Card
When Mildred Kerr Bush became a new mother in March 1989, she received thousands of cards from friends and fans around the country congratulating her on the howling success of her litter.
Even Millie, the president`s English springer spaniel, has been touched by the greeting-card industry, hich is determined to sniff out and fetch the needs of the market.
``The greeting-card industry is very trend-sensitive, `` says Faith Ruffins, historian at the Smithsonian`s National Museum of American History in Washington.
Greeting-card producers always have tried to keep up with constant changes in social issues and shifting demographics, she says. Indeed, there seems to be a card for every occasion, event or sentiment.
Because of the nature of the industry, ``any issue in society can be reflected rather quickly in greeting cards, `` says Ruffins, who is head of the collection of advertising history at the Museum of American History.
There are not only ``hope-your-tail`s-wagging-soon`` cards for ailing pets but also cards designed specifically for seniors, working women, recent divorcees, people with terminal illnesses or the traditional friend-to-friend cards.
Christmas most popular
Christmas is the most popular card-sending holiday, followed by Valentine`s Day, Easter and Mother`s Day, but everyday cards are on the rise, constituting half of the cards purchased annually, according to the Greeting Card Association of Washington. People don`t need a specific occasion to send cards; they are used as expressions of thoughtfulness, as personal sentimental messengers.
The association estimates that in 1991 nearly 7.3 billion greeting cards were bought, generating approximately $5 billion in U.S. retail sales. Traditionally, women buy up to 90 percent of all cards. The ``average person`` receives 31 greeting cards a year.
``Of this total, a person will get seven birthday cards, `` says Nancy Riviere, spokeswoman for the Greeting Card Association. ``The majority of these cards are received between Thanksgiving and the New Year.`` In a lifetime, that person may have accumulated more than 2, 000 cards.
Subject for scholars
Scholars are studying these sentiments at the Museum of American History through its collection of advertising history. Greeting cards are a form of ephemera, along with posters, tickets, calendars and postcards. These items are made to be discarded, not saved or studied. But taken as a group, greeting cards can reveal societal trends, attitudes and stereotypes.
``You can`t help but have communication vehicles like greeting cards reflect the times, `` says Meg Townsend, spokeswoman for Hallmark Cards Inc. in Kansas City. She calls the greeting-card industry one of personal communication.
But for the greeting card to have meaning as a study tool, it has to be saved systematically.
``Looking at one card doesn`t tell us much about the trends in the sentiments, changes in accepted language, cliches and so on, `` Ruffins says.
``Greeting cards are windows into society. We can look at them and ask what was the world view? How did people see themselves?``
Everything about a card-the design, colors, typeface, printed message-is indicative of the times in which it was produced.
Several collections document greeting cards in the Museum of American History`s Archives Center. The largest is the Norcross Greeting Card Collection, which the Smithsonian acquired after Windsor Communication Inc., Norcross` parent company, stopped producing cards. This collection contains cards and records of the Norcross and Rust Craft card companies, greeting cards from 1880-1900 and a small number of modern cards by other manufacturers from 1930 to 1980.
Craig Orr, archivist with the Museum of American History, and volunteer Ann Behning, former greeting-card shop owner, arranged the massive Norcross collection of cards by occasion, date and serial number, then stored them in more than 1, 700 acid-free boxes. Orr estimates the collection contains nearly half a million cards.
``By studying cards that span several generations, `` Ruffins says, ``you can detect the differences and changes in style, attitudes and ideas.``
Rhymed cards used to be trendy, Ruffins says, but now they are considered traditional, old-fashioned, even sappy. For example, a traditional graduation card might read: ``I`m very proud of you today/And wish I could express/My many, many wishes/For your future happiness.``
On the other hand, contemporary cards may use language and ideas that would have been alien to the card industry at the turn of the century, such as this one from Hallmark`s Shoebox Greetings line:
``For your birthday gift, I was trying to decide between a Mercedes 560 SL, a Saab 9000 Turbo or a Jaguar XJ-S. But then I thought, `Hey, Wait a Minute-BUY AMERICAN!` So I bought you this card.``