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Columbia University Press
Token of My Affection: Greeting Cards and American Business Culture

Token of My Affection: Greeting Cards and American Business Culture

by Barry Shank


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Token of My Affection: Greeting Cards and American Business Culture

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 2900231118797
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Publication date: 06/27/2006
Series: Popular Cultures, Everyday Lives Series
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 368
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 1.25(h) x 9.00(d)

About the Author

Barry Shank is professor of comparative studies at The Ohio State University. He is the author of Dissonant Identities: The Rock 'n' Roll Scene in Austin, Texas. His work on popular culture has appeared in such journals as boundary 2, Radical History Review, American Studies, and American Quarterly.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Introduction: Structured Feelings amid Circulations of the Heart
1. Vicious Sentiments: Nineteenth-Century Valentines and the Sentimental Production of Class Boundaries
2. The Nineteenth-Century Christmas Card: The Chromo-Reproduction of Sentimental Value
3. Corporate Sentiment: The Rise of the Twentieth-Century Greeting Card Industry and the American Culture of Business
4. Condensation, Displacement, and Masquerade: The Dream-Work of Greeting Cards
5. Knitting the Social Lace: The Use of Greeting Cards
6. All This Senseless Rationality: Beyond the End of the Modern Era of Greeting Cards

What People are Saying About This

Elizabeth Dillon

Barry Shank's A Token of My Affection advances a complex and compelling argument linking economic structures to profoundly personal emotions. This is an original and insightful book.

Richard Ohmann

Greeting cards might seem a banal subject: the mass production of sentiment has after all been a main activity of corporate media. Barry Shank's fine study explodes the banality, showing with insight and finesse how a changing business culture reshaped not just production, from the 1840s to the 1950s, but family, friendship, emotion, and much else. Valentine, Christmas, and later a host of specialized cards both carried and helped solidify new social relationships. The combination of sympathetic analysis and historical sweep in A Token of My Affection—along with the sensuous imagery of hundreds of reproduced cards—makes this book a model of cultural studies and a delight to read.

Janice Radway

Theoretically astute, yet sensitive to the particularities and nuances of historical investigations, A Token of My Affection is an impressive and an important book. Rigorously refusing the still too common habit of treating the social history of private life as distinct from the public world of political and economic calculation, Barry Shank traces the intricate relations between them. In so doing, he ventures a sophisticated and consequential argument about the connections among the history of American capitalism, the greeting card industry and the generation of both private and collected affect through the course of the twentieth century.

June Howard

A Token of My Affection is a fascinating account of the history of the greeting card in America, taking us on a tour of the industry from its beginnings in the 1840s through corporate consolidation to the present. And more—it's an important exploration of just how our economic and emotional lives are connected. Barry Shank shows that there's no better way of examining what Raymond Williams called 'structures of feeling' than looking at valentines and Christmas cards. His book is full of interesting people, intriguing images, and big ideas.

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