A Token of My Affection

A Token of My Affection: Greeting Cards and American Business Culture

Barry Shank
Robin D.G. Kelly
Janice Radway
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    A Token of My Affection
    Book Description:

    Each year in the United States, millions of mass-produced greeting cards proclaim their occasional messages: "For My Loving Daughter," "On the Occasion of Your Marriage," and "It's a Boy!" For more than 150 years, greeting cards have tapped into and organized a shared language of love, affection, and kinship, becoming an integral part of American life and culture. Contemporary incarnations of these emotional transactions performed through small bits of decorated paper are often dismissed as vacuous clichés employing worn-out stereotypes. Nevertheless, the relationship of greeting cards to systems of material production is well worth studying and understanding, for the modern greeting card is the product of an industry whose values and aims seem to contradict the sentiments that most cards express. In fact, greeting cards articulate shifting forms of love and affiliation experienced by people whose lives have been shaped by the major economic changes of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. A Token of My Affection shows in fascinating detail how the evolution of the greeting card reveals the fundamental power of economic organization to enable and constrain experiences of longing, status, desire, social connectedness, and love and to structure and partially determine the most private, internal, and intimate of feelings.

    Beautifully illustrated, A Token of My Affection follows the development of the modern greeting card industry from the 1840s, as a way of recovering that most elusive of things -- the emotional subjectivity of another age. Barry Shank charts the evolution of the greeting card from an afterthought to a traditional printing and stationery business in the mid-nineteenth century to a multibillion-dollar industry a hundred years later. He explains what an industry devoted to emotional sincerity means for the lives of all Americans. Blending archival research in business history with a study of surviving artifacts and a literary analysis of a broad range of relevant texts and primary sources, Shank demonstrates the power of business to affect love and the ability of love to find its way in the marketplace of consumer society.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50925-1
    Subjects: Sociology, History, Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xx)
  5. Introduction: Structured Feelings amid Circulations of the Heart
    (pp. 1-15)

    At the beginning of Frank Capra’s Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Longfellow Deeds lives in a small town where he makes a comfortable, though not luxurious, living by writing greeting card verse. After inheriting a fortune, he moves to New York, where he encounters the greed, corruption, and cynicism of modern urban life, a world structured by harsh competition, artificial sophistication, and deceit. Even after this move, Deeds believes that he can still live according to his own feelings about right and wrong; he can continue to rely on his ability to judge the character of others and his good...

  6. 1 Vicious Sentiments: Nineteenth-Century Valentines and the Sentimental Production of Class Boundaries
    (pp. 16-64)

    In his lecture notes for October 16, 1848, David Berdan, a young instructor in linguistics at Brunswick College in New Jersey, carefully formulated his understanding of the crucial distinction between thoughts and language. “Language signifies the expression of our ideas by certain articulate sounds which are used as the signs of those ideas,” he wrote. “The connection between words and ideas may in general be considered as arbitrary and conventional and the differences between languages as a different set of articulate sounds which they have chosen for communicating their ideas.” Berdan had studied the classics, translating Homer, Plato, and Demosthenes....

  7. 2 The Nineteenth-Century Christmas Card: The Chromo-Reproduction of Sentimental Value
    (pp. 65-118)

    Surely a new Pandora has been sent forth by the gods!—a most lovely, bewitching Pandora, who has opened her mysterious box, and poured upon the world its yearly blessing,—a rainbow-hued shower of Christmas cards!” So began Janet Huntington McKelvey’s 1886 essay, “The Christmas Card,” the winner of a competition sponsored by Louis Prang & Company for the best expression of “what ladies think” about the relatively recent American adoption of the practice of sending Christmas cards.¹ For a little more than ten years, Prang’s artists, chromolithographers, printers, and salesmen had been collaborating in the design, production, and distribution of...

  8. 3 Corporate Sentiment: The Rise of the Twentieth-Century Greeting Card Industry and the American Culture of Business
    (pp. 119-169)

    By the beginning of the twentieth century, the construction of market-oriented subjectivities no longer organized the demand for emotional eloquence. The market revolution had transformed all but the most outlying areas. The economic force that would drive emergent structures of feeling for the next half-century would be the development of large-scale business organizations. The swift rise to dominance of the corporate form began soon after the 1886 Supreme Court decision that gave the business corporation the legal status of a person. A massive set of mergers quickly followed, collapsing thousands of small firms into a much smaller number of very...

  9. 4 Condensation, Displacement, and Masquerade: The Dream-Work of Greeting Cards
    (pp. 170-217)

    We do not have to look at greeting cards to be convinced that during the first half of the twentieth century, business culture was hegemonic in the United States. But if we do look at cards produced by the major companies, we can see some of the important emotional effects of that hegemony. If the argument of chapter 3 is correct—that conditions of large-scale business produced a reliance on a particularly generative, highly condensed, and displaced set of evocative images and verbal clichés—then greeting cards of the first half of the twentieth century provide a rich text for...

  10. Plates
    (pp. None)
  11. 5 Knitting the Social Lace: The Use of Greeting Cards
    (pp. 218-246)

    On January 31, 1925, Clara Raddant Bleck mailed a birthday card to her sister, Edith Raddant Meggers. It read:

    To My Sister on Her Birthday:

    You are just the best ever!

    Believe me, I know it,

    And love you no matter

    How little I show it!

    Clara had mailed the card from her home in Clintonville, Wisconsin, close to Shawano, the small town where she and her sister had grown up. Edith was living on Harvard Street in Washington, D.C. She had moved there in 1920, when she married. Dr. William F. Meggers had grown up in Wisconsin as well....

  12. 6 All This Senseless Rationality: Beyond the End of the Modern Era of Greeting Cards
    (pp. 247-268)

    At the beginning of the twenty-first century, with electronic cards filling our e-mail in-boxes and Hallmark branching into cable television, the era of the modern greeting card is largely over. Which is not to say that people have ceased to use paper cards. Millions of them are still sent every day. Throughout the last quarter of the twentieth century, the annual growth of the “social-expression” industry was estimated at a modest but consistent 2 to 4 percent. But continued growth in revenue is deceptive. Even as new markets are being created, many of the old standbys fade away. In 1990,...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 269-300)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 301-314)
  15. Index
    (pp. 315-328)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 329-330)