If this is a necessary part of your collection, I’ve got it for sale in our case at Exit 55 Antiques — and they will ship to you. You can call the store between 10 am and 5 pm (central time) at (218) 998-3088 between 10 am and 5 pm (central time) any day. (Yup, the shop is open seven days a week!)
There are 15 styles, each beginning with the greeting, “In my book…” and concluding with literary pun sentiments, such as “you’re novel”, “you’re top shelf” and, my favorite, “you’re voluminous.” The entire front of the card is perforated, so tearing along the perforations changes the greeting card into a bookmark. It’s more than clever recycling, it’s a great way to give a gift that book lovers will actually love. The double-entendres are an added bonus. *wink*
Finally, we managed to find the time to do an interview…
In a world where people at least fear that physical paper books will disappear, why go into any business based on print books? And with such an ephemeral item yet!
Every so often, we need to reinvent ourselves as the circumstances surrounding our lives change with time and happenstance; I found a new calling at the age of fifty as an entrepreneur with a previously non-existent book-related product called In My Book®.
A bit of background: During WWII my immigrant parents settled in DC as newlyweds and Dad established his own small business, The Kronstadt (Advertising) Agency. Mom was a stay-at-home wife and mother. After attending DC public schools and then GWU with a major in drama, I set out for New York City and what I hoped would be a thriving theater career. I was a stage manager and lighting designer and had a fair amount of success in my twenties working in show biz. My thirties began in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, where I served as the managing director of an amphitheater, the Reichhold Center; that’s also where I met my husband-to-be. We moved back to New York and when our sons were little, I followed my mother’s lead and stayed at home with them, later easing back into work for the children’s book publisher Kane/Miller (Everyone Poops plus many other great titles).
At a crossroads in my life (leaving my part-time job with Kane/Miller and with my children firmly established in middle school), I decided it was time for the next chapter (warning, more literary double-entendres ahead). With a lifelong love of reading and the know-how I acquired in publishing, I established my own start-up, In My Book®, “the greeting card and bookmark in one.”
I started the business in 1999 and sold my first cards in 2000, so the e-book e-ink rage was not yet in full swing.
The ‘fear that physical paper books will disappear’ has been just another obstacle in pretty much a decade of obstacles that I’ve encountered. But then everyone thought Columbus was crazy to attempt to sail to the East Indies.
First there was the dot.com boom, then 9/11, then the rise of chain bookstores and Amazon, then the disappearance of indie bookstores, then the collapse of the economy, then the spread of e-books and the quasi-obsolescence of publishers. I was and continue to be determined to introduce book lovers to the concept of “In My Book” cards and damn the torpedos as they say…full speed ahead.
Any thoughts on the print publishing industry?
I can’t envision a time when people won’t want to collect, read, share and display the books they’ve enjoyed and the books they continue to treasure as the foundation of their personal libraries. Books with illustrations and graphics in particular can never be surplanted by e-ink. The fact that e-books are quickly gaining in popularity does not necessarily reflect what method or mode of reading people will gravitate to in the future. For now, it’s new, it’s cool, it has a certain appeal as the latest thing/ le dernier mode.
What I like best about In My Book is that they are the perfect “Just because” gift. And they are great add-ons when trying to “even up” at holiday time, etc. Oh, and they are a nice way to deliver things like gift certificates. Plus, they are the greeting card too. OK, so that’s more than one thing, but… I love them! When you discover them, it’s one of those, “Why didn’t I think of that?!” or “Why haven’t these always existed!” moments. What was the inspiration?
I had been working in publishing and knew that I could not advance past a certain stage with that organization. I wanted to do my own thing related to publishing and I started with the idea of a unique bookmark. I love paper and I’ve always liked the idea of changing the text on printed greeting cards. As the idea developed, and the bookmark expanded into a greeting card, the concept and format of In My Book® was born (the name was hit upon in the shower). In 2000, I hired a wonderful illustrator, Meredith Hamilton, to do the artwork.
I had a brief, but shinning I like to think, career in writing greeting cards; it’s a lot harder than it looks *wink* Where do you start when creating — with the greeting cards and occasion themes? Or is it primarily book (and pun!) based?
My advice to anyone thinking about starting a greeting card company is think twice. There are so many talented artists and varied styles of greetings available, but if you must follow your muse, be aware that the hardest part of making a success is not in designing or manufacturing the cards, it’s the challenging task of getting the cards sold and distributed in sufficient volume to make it work economically. And you have to do a lot of horn-tooting or be able to pay for someone to do it for you.
With the In My Book line, I defied the popular notion of sending greeting cards for holidays and special occasions. None of my cards are occasion-based; which means, who needs an occasion to send them, they’d ‘work’ for even an ordinary day! The cards could be used for a birthday or anniversary, but senders could also just to write a short note, enclose a gift certificate, give a check or cash (perfect size for that), or send them as a thank you note for a teacher, librarian, doctor or nurse, or as a graduation or promotion card. Enclose a pair of tickets to a show or send a ‘keep the date’ reminder. All of the fifteen styles are literary-oriented, either based on a particular genre (novel, mystery, adventure, poetry), or literary terminology (in between the covers, the last word, the happy ending). All are pun-based and light-hearted, and hopefully will continue to remind the recipient of the person who sent them the card as they continue to use it as a bookmark. They recycle!
Which designs are most popular? Do you think that’s based purely on book genre?
Most popular in terms of sales are classic, novel, rare, happy ending and top shelf. Voluminous is the least popular, although I think there are a lot of people who look at but don’t necessarily buy the beautiful Ingres-based nude. Americans are still puritanical. I hope that buyers select the card based on the person they plan on sending it to…but of course different styles cause different reactions and individuals’ tastes come into play.
Thanks for your time, Robin!
Now that you are sold on the idea of In My Book® cards, you can get them direct from Robin. Or, if you are out and about and wish to support local businesses and organizations, look for them at over 500 independent book and library stores — including at the Library of Congress store.
If you run a bookstore, museum shop, etc. or your historical society or library is looking for a way to raise funds, cards may be purchased at a wholesale rate.
PS More styles of In My Book® bookmarks/cards are presently in the works and will be available in Spring of 2012!
Greeting cards are primarily a female thing; I don’t think any sane person would argue this. But I feel the need to elaborate anyway.
First by boasting mentioning my past professional work in the greeting card biz with the fabulous Kat Caverly of NoEvil Productions (makers of Greetums), and so asserting my insider knowledge.
Second, by sharing the anecdotal evidence of how this past summer my 13 year old daughter, who spent an hour or more with her grandparents looking at and selecting greeting cards for our annual family birthday party (which combines all five of our May 30 – June 29 birthdays), was brought to tears upon the discovery that the nine year old boy had casually tossed his birthday cards into the waste can in his bedroom just a few days later. (Hey, he’s nine; I’m just happy they made it into the proper receptacle rather than being strewn about the floor.)
Since greeting cards are the commerce of females, you can learn a lot about women from the history of greeting cards; perhaps doubly so:
“What we make is bought to be given away,” says Bill Johnson, the member of Joyce Hall’s ingenious and loyal band who was head of public relations from 1966 to 1985. “And that’s a lot different than women’s shoes. When you buy shoes, you only have to please one person. When you buy a card, you have to please the sender and the recipient.”
As early as 1910, Marie Dressler was singing “Heaven will protect the working girl.” A lot she knew. The working girl has always been the very model of self-reliance… and self-pity.
“Self-pity?” Why is it that such woman-to-woman commiseration is so poorly understood, yet the author admits such commiseration in the Hard Times chapter devoted to greeting cards of The Great Depression, saying, on page 129, “During the depression, it was a plight to be shared. Not even greeting cards could escape the reality of rumbling stomachs and tattered clothes.” Certainly working women would like to acknowledge to one another their own workplace plight.
Also the demeaning use of “working girl” rather than “working woman” shows something of Stern’s stance; even if the old cards referred to adult employed females as “working girls,” Stern could have expressed her regard for the phrase with quotes surrounding the derogatory phrase.
Stern’s sentiments about self-pitying working women may be accurate based on what’s observable in the book, but wasn’t she herself in 1988 a working woman willing to commiserate and understand the cards presented? Was she getting paid 100% of her authorship dollar that a man who wrote this book would have? Or maybe Stern agreed with the sipping coffee, legs up on desk, images of “girls” at work. Wartime cards were of a battle understood; but I guess the battle of the sexes, of equal respect in the workplace, of equal work for equal pay, was a battle Stern wasn’t into.
But perhaps most intriguing of all are the plethora of lingerie themed cards.
You might be tempted to pass them off as simply risque — sexist use of the female form for men; but remember, greeting cards are a woman’s thing, bought by & given to other women. And so maybe it seems a women’s lingerie thing you wouldn’t understand…
While Hallmark was run by a man — or men with a few “poor working girls,” and can be seen as The Man, you can’t deny the serious dedication the company had to targeted marketing. They spent oodles of dollars and gobs of time focused on what sold and who bought it — including focus groups of women. If women weren’t buying the charming illustrations of women in their dainties and picture-laden puns of underthings, Hallmark wouldn’t have made them. Let alone so many of them.
And heck, I’ll admit I’m charmed by such illustrations & puns.
The Very Best from Hallmark: Greeting Cards Through the Years, by Ellen Stern, is not a collector’s guide, really; there are no prices or discussion of the secondary market at all. However, savvy collectors and historians who view the world through pop culture vision glasses can learn much from this out of print book published in 1988, which is approaching collectibility itself.
Collectors who are lucky enough to find their cards represented here may ascertain their card’s publication date. Or identify potentially rare cards, such as those which were pulled as failures — like the time Hallmark inadvertently used an X-ray of human bowels rather than the intended heart X-ray for its “heart’s in the right place” card. (Pulled cards would mean fewer in circulation and even rarer finds for collectors — worthy of higher prices, certainly.) But mainly, collectors will gain more insight into greeting cards — in general, and, especially, the Hallmark variety.
(Clearly The Very Best from Hallmark is a corporate sanctioned publication, but I don’t think anyone can challenge Hallmark’s market share superiority or the company’s longevity — both of which speak to the book’s genuine insight into a culture that buys so many greeting cards.)
Ellen Stern’s introduction to the book gives a very brief history of the greeting card along with a rather erratic telling of the story of Joyce C. Hall, Hallmark’s founder. I realize Stern’s job of taking centuries of greeting card history and stuffing it — along with greater detail of the Hallmark company specifically — into a mere 12 pages (including space for images) is no small task; but something’s wrong when I have to re-read paragraphs over again to understand what she’s saying. However, when Stern gets into the aspects about the workings of Hallmark, from art department design to product marketing, she shines.
Here are a few gems:
On a trip to New York in the 1940s, accompanied by Hallmark’s head of corporate design and a couple of artists, [J.C. Hall] would visit Lord & Taylor, Bloomingdale’s, and Bonwit Teller — and there be ushered out because the group was taking too many notes on colors, styles, and windows displays. Everywhere he roamed he analyzed, assessed, and appreciated the wares and wonders…
I do this myself; but as I do my note-taking without entourage, I’ve never been escorted out.
In the 1940s and fifties, in department stores and card shops, Hallmark clerks adhered to a dress code — wearing only black, brown, navy, or charcoal gray — so as not to compete with the merchandise.
As a person who’s served a long retail sentence, I find that fascinating — and wonder why they changed the policy.
Dean Walley was a journalism major at the University of Missouri before joining Hallmark. Now one of the senior writers, he’s also the man who offers a marvelous course in American manners — and manners of speaking — to the artists and writers. Projecting slides of old cards from Hallmark’s archives on a small screen, he will rhapsodize on a colloquialism here, chuckle at an antiquated idea there, applaud an adjective, blast a dialect. He loves the high-falutin’ use of the word “grand,” the bravado of “staunch,” the evasiveness of “To a certain cheerful someone.” His sentimental olio embraces cards of every era, every province: a bluebird of the twenties chirping “Please Hurry Back,” a Dutch girl saying “To mine friend,” a tippler saying “Happy Birschday to You,” greetings to the dentist, a quack from Donald Duck. The point is that Hallmark writers must keep up with the language as it changes.
If you collect or read any vintage printed matter &/or antique publications, you know how true — and puzzling — this is; language is often as ephemeral as old paper itself. (Oh, how I’d love to dish with Dean Walley!)
And that’s all before we get to the over 750 images of vintage Hallmark cards.
Looking at the images, I reaffirm my love of vintage illustration. But it’s not all charming — or at least not all simply charming. There are things to note about our culture here.
Some of these things are noted by the author, like on page 45 where among the images of vintage greeting cards (birthday cards from the 1930s, shown at left) the author observes, “You couldn’t get a drink, but you could still say ‘Hell’ on a greeting card. By the fifties, it would be just the opposite.”
There have been many changes in deed; and our general history has been documented in this specific form of ephemera. In the forward, Stern has this to say:
The ups and downs of our economy, our hemlines, and our mood: such is the grist for the Hallmark mill. The days of our lives, as you will see on the following pages, are reflected in the cards of our days. Prohibition, fitness, the income tax, Vietnam, the G-man, the G.O.P., women’s suffrage, women’s lib, the radio, the jukebox, the computer, talkies, hula hoops, the Atom bomb, the gray flannel suit, the mini skirt, My Fair Lady, Huey Long, Mickey Mouse, the TV quiz show, the fireside chat, the Duchess of Windsor, Miss Piggy, Sputnik, the beatnik, Charlie Brown, Charles Lindbergh, canasta, Mussolini, rationing, cowboys, hippies, hillbillies, bobby soxers, flappers, the Dionne Quints, Valley Girls, the airplane, the blackout, the Crash. The seasons come, the seasons go, and Hallmark is up to the minute.
“Actually, says Bill Johnson [head of Hallmark’s public relations from 1966 to 1985], most cards reflect more everyday life than national events. And a national event does not in itself bring about a card. Most are ignored by the greeting card industry. It would be a folly to pretend that by looking at cards from 1920 to 1935, say, you’d get a full idea of what was going on in America.” But you get a pretty good one.
I think that’s true. Especially what Johnson says. But it’s here that we learn some things which are (rather miraculously) not noted by the author.
As you critical thinkers probably have noticed, there’s not a damn mention of civil rights. I didn’t not present them; they are not in the book (even though Beatniks garner two pages worth of attention).
OK, I’ll admit a “civil rights” themed greeting card is probably not too likely to become a best seller, but where are the persons of color? In the over 750 images of “Hallmark’s best greeting cards, spanning seven crowded decades of American life,” I found exactly two cards of what I’ll call non-white people — that weren’t Mussolini or other rather racist depiction of foreign public political figures. I’m sure too that Hallmark made many more racist cards once upon a time — which they were too ashamed of to share in the book — but to not address the whole issue of race is odd… At least show more than two cards with black folks, right?
Whether or not Hallmark does or doesn’t make cards which are more reflective of our society is research I’ll leave for others; but we don’t see much represented here.
Then again, perhaps that’s a problem best explained by the context of the time at which this book was published.
This 1980s book makes clear choices to mention and display the G.O.P. several times (yet I found no clear representations of the Democratic Party) and the republicans of the 80’s certainly weren’t building their platform on civil rights; ultraconservative republicans disliked Affirmative Action and, in a backlash against it, President Ronald Reagan cut funding for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the civil rights division of the Justice Department. Of course, I could be connecting some dots based on those missing dots, creating an image that doesn’t really exist, but I don’t think so. I think the G.O.P. populist pride slant is part of the book’s construction.
But that doesn’t necessarily detract from the book either. At least not if you are a critical thinker. This book may have intended to document our American history through the social connection of greeting card commerce up to its then present day of 1988, but it also documents, through its selections and omissions, a view of that once present day of 1988 which is now a part of our history.
If this is the sort of stuff that fascinates you half as much as it does me, get a copy. (The book is not as common as you might think for a 1988 title; however, it’s not as rare as the Amazon listings might indicate, so check for it at eBay.) If you’re not sure yet, stick around; I’ll be discussing some more from this book during the next few weeks. (If I make the posts really long, I know you won’t read all of it!)
When I was younger, I used to fall for big men with even bigger swaggers. Not quickly enough did I learn that most often what I had mistaken for confidence was defensive posturing hiding a rotten, neurotic and needy man-child who needed me to bolster his ego, his identity and make him feel successful.