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Sending his very best
Joyce Hall of Hallmark put his stamp on greeting cards

Published: Nov/Dec 2002
By Sally Snell

Sending greeting cards is as much a holiday tradition as exchanging gifts or celebrating with family. But it was only in recent history that sentiment cards became available to the public. The vision of Joyce C. Hall, founder of Hallmark Cards, forever changed the way we express ourselves.

Modest roots

He was named for a Methodist preacher who visited David City, a small Nebraska town, the day Hall was born in 1891. The family had a hard life and often went hungry for long stretches. His father left when Joyce was seven. Hall would later say that lack of food and a desire to eat regularly gave him an extra drive to succeed in business.

Hall and his older brothers now had to support the family. They took any job that was available, even selling cosmetics door-to-door for the forerunner of Avon Products. By 1902, Hall moved to Norfolk, Neb., to help his older brothers, Rollie and Bill, at their bookstore. Fate and luck stepped in when a post card importer came to the store to discuss wholesaling opportunities. Hall had money saved from selling popcorn to trainloads of homesteaders. Brother Bill matched his investment. They were in the card business.

Joyce Hall quickly realized he needed to relocate to a bigger market to have the best chance at success. It was the Kansas City spirit that drew him there, though for months he had to use his room at the YMCA for both office and warehouse.

By 1912, “I began to see that greeting cards were more than a form of communication–they were a social custom,” Hall wrote in his autobiography, “When You Care Enough.”

One day, a salesman idled away time writing humorous Christmas poems while he waited for his order of Valentine cards. He showed the poems to Hall who enjoyed them so much, he encouraged the salesman to write more. These poems became the first humorous sentiments used on greeting cards for special occasions, said Hall.

The name of Hallmark was taken from 14th-century London, when gold and silversmiths used a mark to show the quality of their merchandise. Hall Brothers began printing Hallmark on their products in 1928. The crown was added in 1949, and they officially changed the name of their company to Hallmark in 1954.

Kansas City’s Crown Center was completed in the late 1980s. “The architectural planning of Crown Center has been aimed at bringing people and their families back to the city,” Hall wrote in his autobiography.

A few milestones

Some of Joyce C. Hall’s ideas were groundbreaking.
  • Greeting card display fixtures. Prior to 1935, consumers had to sort through a shipping box to find the desired card.
  • The first Emmy ever presented in 1961 to a sponsor for the Hallmark Hall of Fame Series for uplifting the standards of television. The first Hallmark Hall of Fame aired Dec. 24, 1951. It was the opera, “Amahl and the Night Visitors” by Gian Carlo Menotti.

Hallmark today

Joyce C. Hall died in 1982, but his legacy lives on in his children and grandchildren. Joyce C. Hall’s grandson, Donald J. Hall Jr. was named chief executive officer and president of Hallmark in January. His father, Donald Joyce Hall Sr. is chairman of the board.

Today, Hallmark has more than 20,000 full-time employees worldwide. About 5,500 employees work at the Kansas City headquarters and 12,000 are associated full-time with the U.S. personal expression business. Products are manufactured in 30 languages and distributed to more than 100 countries.

Hallmark Visitor’s Center

The winter holiday is an excellent time to tour the Hallmark Visitors Center in the Kansas City Crown Center Complex. Special holiday exhibits on display include the J.C. Hall Christmas Tree Collection, comprised of the annual gifts given to Joyce C. Hall by his employees from 1966 to his death in 1982. The Historical Showcase features a different display every year from the Hallmark Archives and Design Collection, one of the largest collections of its kind in the world. Exhibits on display in the Historical Showcase feature rare and valuable specimens. Hours are Tuesday through Friday, 9 a.m.- 5 p.m., and Saturday, 9:30 a.m.- 4:30 p.m. For more information, call (816) 274-3613.

Sally Snell is a contributor from Topeka, Kan.

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