Greeting cards are not just a good way to keep in touch with your loved ones — they are also a kaleidoscope of trends, past and present. To make the point, Taipei Story House (台北故事館) is holding a special exhibition of over a thousand vintage greeting cards from around the world.
The tradition of exchanging holiday greetings through cards most likely began in London in the 1840s, when Sir Henry Cole hired an artist to design a Christmas card that he could distribute among his friends, according to Sally Chen (陳淑美), head of Taipei Story House’s promotion section.
The practice of sending and receiving greeting cards of all sorts gained traction soon after, thanks to the introduction of postage stamps and advances in printing. The tradition remains strong even today, and designers have enriched the form by injecting cultural elements from their era.
Take a batch of birthday cards printed in the 1980s, for example. These card covers are populated with ET, Darth Vader and Barbie cut-outs — reflections of pop culture and lifestyle at the time, according to Chen.
“There weren’t many play toys back then, so it was fashionable to have paper doll cut-outs in greeting cards. It’s like killing two birds with one stone: keeping the children happy and saving money on their birthday present,” she said.
Visitors can also peek into the past by reading the messages penned inside used greeting cards.
“For the past eighteen years Billy dear, you have been the most perfect son a mother could ever have,” a card reads. This mother chose a birthday card with a smoking gentleman, which reflects the prominent cigarette culture of the 1940s.
“It’s interesting how much you can see in the cards,” Chen said.
To make the exhibition more colorful, one room is wholly dedicated to unique holiday greeting cards from 15 different cultures. India, a community that highly values family bonds, is represented by Brother and Sister Day. Men’s Day is a Russian creation that marked the establishment of the Red (Soviet) Army in 1918.
“The cards will definitely take you on a life’s journey of big and small moments, happy and challenging times,” Chen said.