Tuesday, July 7, 2015

A Review of My Life in Greeting Cards

An Impossible Dream?

greeting cards
Some of My Favorite Greeting Card Lines
"You should make your own card line, " my friend said.

At the time I was a card buyer for Logos of Westwood, a Christian bookstore in Los Angeles, and I loved greeting cards. I loved reading them. I loved discovering new card lines I was sure my customers would love. I loved roaming the aisles at the Los Angeles Gift Show every year to find something unique, funny, lovely, warm or thought-provoking that stayed within the bounds of good taste.

Every day I when I arrived at work, I'd check first thing to see which cards were selling. I loved competing with the other card stores and departments in the rest of Westwood Village. It made my day when people came in to browse the card racks and walked to the counter with cards by the handful.

But make my own card line? I didn't see how it was possible. I couldn't draw, but I knew I could find the words to match pictures. In 1975, though, designing and printing cards was an expensive business. I didn't see how I'd ever be able to make it work.

Cards in this picture are from my Logos days. From left to right, a Fravessi card designed by Rose Shirvenian, a Marian Heath card, and a Suzy's Zoo note card published by Current and designed by Suzy Spafford.

My Kingdom

Card department of Logos of Westwood about 1975
What’s in this picture was only part of my department. It was my job to pick out each individual card that went into these racks. I did not allow the salespeople to inventory and stock them.I did it myself. When the reps came to call, I’d look at all the cards they had to offer in each line. I’d pick the ones for the store that I myself responded to or that met all the criteria I had. Cards that depended upon put-downs for their humor were rejected. I wanted cards that would promote and enhance communication between individuals.

 My target market was the people like me that liked to hang around card departments and just read cards. As we read, we’d see one we just had to get for this friend or that, or the perfect birthday card for Aunt Sue whose birthday was in two months, etc. Those who have the card browsing habit respond by buying the cards they like. In those days, email did not yet exist for the average person. Personal computers did not exist yet. So people still bought lots of greeting cards.

When people think of greeting cards, they often think first of Hallmark, at least they did back then. But we were a small independent Christian bookstore that hadn’t yet been in business for a year. Cards were supposed to be small part of our overall business. Hallmark wouldn’t even consider letting us stock their cards — not with a Hallmark store around the corner, Robinson’s across the street, and a stationery shop next door — all of whom carried Hallmark exclusively and would not appreciate the competition. So my job was to find alternatives.

Unlike many bookstores, we were a nonprofit organization, designed to be a ministry that reached out to college students searching for truth. We were also there to supply the books the Christian students at UCLA needed to grow their spiritual lives. The idea was to be within walking distance of the campus. Cards and gift items were what we called “bridge items” that were the first thing people saw as they entered the store.

Since most Christian bookstores of that day depended a lot upon selling church supplies, they tended to serve an older population of pastors and Sunday School teachers. They looked “churchy” from the moment the customer walked in. Logos stores like ours, which were always located near college campuses, did not want to look that way. The books were toward the back, and the cards and gift islands were at the front to engage the customers as they walked in.

Choosing Cards

As a card buyer, I had my personal dislikes. One of them was rhyming sentimental cards in iambic pentameter. I remember how I and the gal I was training to replace me (who left before I did) used to sit at the back with a box of these and laugh our heads off at the “syrup” that dripped from these cards. Ordinarily we didn’t carry this line except for Christmas and Valentine’s Day when we had a lot of men needing cards for their mothers and wives and other relatives. I often wondered why so many of the Christian card lines of the day were of this sentimental type and seemed geared to the tastes of the elderly — or their supposed tastes.

br /> However, I finally found some Christian lines with a contemporary look. Dayspring was one of them.  Dayspring cards often have a lovely photograph with a Scripture verse. They still have such cards, as well as other Christian cards with both contemporary and more traditional and floral designs.

We were not limited to Christian lines, however. Our criteria for choosing was based on Philippians 4: 9: “…whatever is true…,honorable…,just…,pure…,lovely…,gracious.” That did not exclude humor, but it had to be warm humor, that made the recipient feel better rather than insulted. I was after beauty, clean designs, and sentiments that would enhance communication between people. I wanted the kind of cards that made the buyer think, ” I really don’t need a card, but this is perfect to send to my friend Myra who’s going through a tough time, so I’ll get it.” We had lots of “thinking of you” type friendship cards for such buyers.

One of the first major lines (meaning gigantic) we bought was a new one called Recycled Cards. Their first artist was Sandra Boynton, whose “Hippo Birdie” card pictured above, was an instant best seller with not only the college students, but also the senior ladies who liked to window shop in Westwood. Our section of Recycled Cards expanded to the point where we needed more card racks to hold them. I was thrilled to see that Sandra Boynton has chosen to market many of her products at Zazzle now. Visit her store:Sandra Boynton

Sandra Boynton Books

After designing over 4,000 greeting cards, Boynton branched out into other products, including children's books. This set is a collection of some of them. It's not only Boynton's designs which make her work so popular, but also the way she plays with words. This boxed set contains four of Boynton's most popular board books. Toddlers love the bright colors, humorous drawings, and the short verses that beg to be read. Click the caption for a closer look. 

Suzy's Zoo

Suzy Spafford's Suzy's Zoo cards will brighten up anyone's day. She gives her animal characters very expressive personalities and paints them in bold colors. See the duck in my top photo. 

The cards above are a sampling of note cards at Amazon. There are also mugs, stickers, and many other products with her designs at Amazon. 

Leanin' Tree

Amazon has a number of Leaning Tree collections by different artists available. Susan Winget, featured below, is one of my favorites. 

Leanin' Tree is another line I have always liked. They have many styles of cards. Some are beautiful nature cards. Some are funny western style cards like the one to the right. 

Some are humorous with cute animals like the one below. You can see them all easily by following any of the caption links.

kitty about to land on a birthday cake
A Birthday is No Time to Show Restraint
From the Thoughts and Felines Package

Crocus Cards by Nancy Donohue

Designed by Nancy Donahue, Crocus Cards
One part of my job I really enjoyed was seeing what new cards the sales representatives had to offer me. I’ll never forget the day Camille, one of my favorite reps, introduced me to the D. Forer Company. She was short, and looked a bit weary. Who wouldn’t after lugging loaded display cases for several blocks? Parking in Westwood was very scarce and very expensive. When she came calling on me, she hit pay dirt. She pulled from one of her cases a line of cards called Crocus, published by The Forers, New York, and created by Nancy Donohue, about whom not much is written on the web. The only reference to her I could find was in a list of files belonging to an agent at the time of his death. Yet this woman must have brought smiles to thousands, if not millions, who read her cards.

In the card pictured here, one of the few I have left, the tissue box brand is “dripensnort facial tissues,” and the inside reads simply “and get you well soon.” I wish I had the entire collection to share with you. Born in the 1970′s, this line features the character you see here and some of her friends. It was obvious Nancy must have been a gardener, since there were so many references to plants in her greetings. I remember the punch line to one get well card was “All you need is a good mulching.” Another get well card and best seller showed our character with determined look, pointing a hose coming from a huge kettle of chicken soup. The inside read “You WILL get well.”

One of my favorite friendship cards she designed had a weary looking owl leaning on a young tree with only a couple of leaves. It said, “On occasion you must give into feeling dreadful and hope it will pass and everyone will still love you.” Inside it said simply, “It will and they do.” I still have this card, waiting for just the right time to send it.

If you think Nancy cared only about the sick, you’d be wrong. Her anniversary and wedding cards were among the most original and funny I’ve ever seen. Her Valentines were warm and wonderful and sold like hotcakes. And you couldn’t do better than one of her birthday cards. I have never yet seen any card on the market at any price I liked better than these, because they captured the depths of the human spirit, and they had an undertone of affection and kind humor. They were designed to make the reader smile.

Blue Mountain

Most of you reading this probably have always known about Blue Mountain cards and books. Many of you have probably sent their e-cards. In the 1970's though, Blue Mountain was a revolutionary step away from the gushy sentimental iambic pentameter verse that turned my generation off, to a fresh way to convey the thoughts of love and friendship many were feeling. These were the cards I sent my parents and loved ones that said just what I wanted to say, but better than I could say it. Logos of Westwood was the first in Westwood Village to feature a complete rack of these cards,and I was proud to introduce them. Unlike many of my favorite lines, these are still available today. The line of books has become very popular as well, and you can still get many of them.

Blue Mountain: Turning Dreams Into Reality



  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I had to delete my comment because I seem to have trouble typing today. Loved reading your "card biography" Barbara!

    1. Thanks, Heather. I loved working with the cards.

  3. I used to send birthday and get well soon cards to the members of our Sunday School class, which meant I would purchase cards by the box. I always loved Suzy's Zoo myself. That was over 20 years ago. It does seem like emails and even facebook have replaced greeting cards to some degree, which is such a shame. Cards are something people can save and enjoy again years later. I still send cards occasionally, just no where near as many.

    It's does sound like you loved that job Barbara and it you were clearly well suited to it. I couldn't help but wonder if Mr. Wong ever finished his PhD.

    1. I don't think Andy ever got his degree. Maybe he also loved working with the books. Maybe he will tell us himself. I think most people today are just too busy to take time for those personal communications in writing. But who among us still does not treasure getting such a card or letter written just to us with a heartfelt personal message?

  4. I very much enjoyed reading your journey with greeting cards, Barbara! There was a time that I would have been in your target market, I could spend hours looking through the greeting cards and finding the perfect one to send to this or that friend or relative. What a wonderful trip down memory lane!

    1. Bev, I'm afraid the world and the way we communicate has changed. But I still see cards that beg to be sent to someone. And I'm still selling cards on Zazzle, so some people still do send them. I bought enough to last a lifetime before I left Logos.

  5. I really enjoyed your story, Barbara. We live 100 miles from the DaySpring offices in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. I've always enjoyed their cards and gifts and now, since we share a state, I'm very proud of how they've grown. Also, I was very surprised to know that Sandra Boynton distributes many of her cards on Zazzle - I had no idea! I'm very glad that you've come full circle with the greeting card business, now taking your own photos and designing your own cards. I do that too, on a limited basis, and I just love the quality that Zazzle provides when it comes to paper and printing. Blessings and continued success to you!

    1. I'm not surprised DaySpring has grown. It was always coming out with new products even when I worked with them. I was also surprised to see Boynton on Zazzle, but it probably is good publicity for her. Thanks for the added information and your blessing.

  6. It's official, you know a thing or two about cards! Working or being part of a card shop, especially choosing cards would be wonderful! Making cards is especially fun. Writing the content, or coming up with versus - in fact, I have so many pages on quotes and sayings and onliners I've written - so I appreciate your passion for this! My friend is very much into cards. She absolutely loves them, and she'll make her own sometimes too. Very interesting article Barbara :)

    1. Thank you, Barbara. It's a shame our lives have become so busy now there is little time for hand-written snail mail communication. E-mail is just not the same. Making cards is fun.

  7. That was a great story to read, really interesting. I have never bought anything from zazzle but being in the UK, it seems odd to buy something from the US only to send it back there again. Is there a service where you can buy the card and pay extra to have it posted within the US?

  8. I still have a Nancy Donahue birthday card!


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