Summer 2004

Inventory / Meta-greetings

The cards behind the greeting cards

Brian McMullen

“Inventory” is a column that examines or presents a list, catalogue, or register.

For Mom

I haven’t found a definitive name for the cards in greeting card displays that meet your glance, guiding you to the right section (“SYMPATHY” or “BIRTHDAY”) within moments. The American Greetings Company sometimes calls these cards “locators,” but let’s call them meta-greetings.

Maybe a sexy name will take them a step closer to the “thingness” that evades them. As far as I can tell, meta-greetings, by any name, are unrecognized by both the collectors’ marketplace (e.g., eBay “ephemera” listings) and the marketplace of ideas (e.g., Maurice Rickards’s eye-opening Encyclopedia of Ephemera).

Because they are often more poetic, funny, and beautiful than the greeting cards they promote, it’s sometimes fun to use meta-greetings as greeting cards. Their size and paper stock make them perfect mailpieces; one side is always blank, ready for postcard-style writing; and clerks are often willing to give them away in moderation, like empty cardboard boxes.

Presented here are some of my favorite meta-greetings from the past seven years. The range of words and phrases is wider than you might expect. I rarely leave a Hallmark store or a supermarket without something new.

Sixty-two meta-greetings, including one with disposal instructions. Photos Ryann Cooley.

Brian McMullen is managing editor and graphic designer of Cabinet.

If you’ve enjoyed the free articles that we offer on our site, please consider subscribing to our nonprofit magazine. You get twelve online issues and unlimited access to all our archives.