Q: What is the market reality of Christmas today, as opposed to 10 years ago?

A: I think the market reality of Christmas today is as it was in 1843, when the first Christmas card was done in London. People are still looking for evergreens to put in their living room. We still have the crafts. Christmas doesn't seem to change. Now, to be sure, there's the greeting card business. That holds a mirror up to life. You're going to have trends affecting the greeting card.

Q: That, I think, is what is most curious. There is this great residue of traditionalism in the home, and yet, from period to period, you see so much shift.

A: There are a lot of crosscurrents. There's a whole other kind of way of life that exists today. There's cynicism like there was never cynicism before. There are drugs being accepted as part of life.

Q: And that impacts the cards you sell?

A: It impacts our people, the kind of lives they lead.

Q: For instance.

A: The major crosscurrent that we see today in the greeting card business -- it's almost, it's unprecedented. It's an erotic card.

Q: At Christmas?

A: Yes, you'll see it at Christmas. I'm sure Donald Hall (president of Hallmark and son of the founder) would say, "Let's get out of the greeting card business" before we would compete on that plane.

Q: Santa Claus is erotic?

A: Santa Claus is erotic.

Q: Are these cards doing well?

A: We watch very carefully, how far the people go who are selling it. What do they turn to when they discover that they can only make that joke so many times?

If you were to look through the greeting cards that we do through the years, you could see what was happening in society at that point in time. During the Second World War there were Christmas cards with American flags and eagles soaring.

During any kind or time of strife -- whether it be the Second World War, or the Korean War and, most recently, the Vietnam War -- you'll see the dove and the word "Peace." You almost can't sell a dove and the word "Peace" today.

Q: That is a statement of how we've changed.

Yes. In our line today, you'll see Santa Claus playing golf, jogging, playing tennis. If you were to come back and look at the greeting cards of the early '80s and the late '70s in the year 2025, you'd say, "What is all this? What's all this physical activity? What was all that with the tennis playing?"

Q: If we were to survey Americans today about their biggest worry, they would talk about the economy, about unemployment. Is that reflected at these holiday greetings?

A: We saw some allusions and references to the Depression during the Depression. Times were hard, "But we'll have a good time anyhow." "We'll find a way of making it work."

A: We're not doing any references to the economy today. The economy is strange. At one and the same time, we have enormous wealth when the choice is to fall into the lake. It is not until we were to run into a national Depression -- then I'm sure we'd see, "Let's have fun, anyhow." "Ain't we got fun."

Q: There must be a lot of cards that you guys think, "This one's gonna be a real bang- up seller," and it falls flat.

A: Yes. We really do. Last Christmas, some of our cards were reproduced in Time Magazine and the ones that made the news in Time didn't make it in the marketplace.

We had one card that showed a 1930s diner. It had a little straggly kind of Christmas light in the window. It was just too pathetic. It was part of the box-card line. So there were 25 of them that somebody had to buy and send out. Maybe there just weren't enough relationships that any one of us had, with 25 others, to make that an appropriate card for that sending situation.

That is a reproduction of the very first Christmas card, 1843. We did it in a postcard about four years ago. The family toasting, with a child snarfing down the wine, which, of course, raised some kind of hullaballoo at the time.

Q: Because?

A: Because of drinking. The nondrinking group didn't like the idea.

I saw some cards back into the '30s and '40s that Hallmark did, and I was appalled at the male chauvinism. Just look at that. "With love to my wife at Christmas." Look at it. "I sometimes have to scold you so you'll treat me extra nice." How about that? He's pointing his finger at her and scolding her, and she has tears in her eyes.

Q: The dog is hiding under the sofa.

A: She's a bad child.

Q: And even say, "I told you so, remember my advice."

A: And look again. He's pointing his finger at her. It's parent-child. It's unbelievable in this day and age. And finally -- .

Q: "But still I think you're pretty sweet and dear; and Christmas wouldn't be complete without your love." And he is sitting in his tuxedo jacket on the easy chair, and his wife is all dolled up.

A: She's in an evening dress. And she becomes a siren. She becomes a sex symbol. She's gone from being the scolded child, from pages one and two, to beinggsomething of a sex symbol, a gratification element, at least. He is clearly the king of his castle, and she is some kind of appendage. Unbelievable!

Q: Has (women's liberation) affected Christmas, too?

A: It's affected everything we do. We must watch, say, what we say about little boys versus little girls. We must watch how we handle the whole husband-wife relationship.

Q: I guess you can't use the word "gay" at Christmas.

A: Somebody commented recently that it's too bad we lost the word "gay." It seemed to rhyme with everything -- "today," "hurray."

Q: Does the humor change, too, from year to year? What you're poking fun at?

A: I mentioned the jogger, yes. We had some greeting cards in the '50s that were poking fun at trying to live in the same world with nuclear armament. Interesting, whatever was funny about that in the 1950s isn't very funny anymore. I think what happened in the '50s was that they didn't really realize what they were making fun of. You won't see much out-and-out references to nuclear warfare in greeting cards today.

You'll see some language that is fresher, too. We have a line that we call Lite. Lite, from Hallmark, is one-third less serious than our regular greeting card. "Thanks an ocelot." That kind of pun. Television kind of humor.

Q: Could you take us from the mid-'60s and describe how these cards have changed?

A: I think the nation came out of the Middle Ages on the 22nd of November, 1963. The Kennedy brothers, Martin Luther King, the incredible turmoil of the '60s, contiguous with the Vietnam War, up 'til Watergate -- a 10- year, incredibly tumultuous period.

Those of us in this business can see several things happening during that period. One was a high incidence of religiosity. It happened with the Billy Graham kind of person, the born-again, if you will. It's still going on.

It grew weird. At that time we had what we called a "Now" album. It was full of cards that had a contemporary look then. What I think they were, as I look back, was just simply a scramble of designs and colors. It was really, I guess, a reflection of the tumult of our times.

Q: A groping?

A: Yes, a groping for "Where are we? Who are we? How are we all going to come through all this?" This incredible tumult followed by the swing through the extreme sentimentality.

Q: Very genteel?

A: Yes, thank you, genteel. Gay Nineties and the early part of the century. The Currier & Ives cards had a strong recovery during that period. In the early '70s we did a number of Norman Rockwell kinds of return-to-another-era card, a kind of saccharine Americana. An awful lot of snow scenes, and to- grandmother's-house-we'll-go.

Six, seven years ago there was an almost 17th century kind of sentimentalism in the country. It was immediately after Watergate, and there was an incredible swing toward the minuet world. Remember? There was an article in Time magazine about six years ago on waltzing and minueting. People going through the craziest moving away from the Watergate world. Of course, it was the pendulum moving radically away from where they were. And I think the pendulum is clearly coming back again now.

A lot of young people, when they look for a greeting card, are looking for a different kind of language. We have more and more people saying to us, "We don't want to send the eight-line iambic pentameter. We want simple, plain language that will say -- "You've got your life and I've got my life and, together as friends, we can be happy."

Q: Simple, direct.

A: Simple, direct, plain language. It's interesting. Having to do with the embarrassment of how far they'll go.

Q: You mean in communication?

A: Yes. No one likes to overcommit.

Q: As we move to the '80s, did that find a new focus?

A: I talked earlier about the language. Common language, but no affectation.

Q: Does that carry through to design?

A: Yes, it really does. We can look at some cards where you'll see some very simple graphics. Graphics used to be equated with coldness. You'll see today that some of the younger people wouldn't equate it that way at all. They'd equate it with simplicity.

Q: Less frills, more sincerity?

A: More sincerity in language. More sincerity in visuals. Simplicity.

Q: Like automobiles, it's stripped down -- you get in your car and you go someplace as opposed to having fins, and chrome and bumpers and tail lights. I get a sense of what you're reaffirming for me is that America is a very conservative nation.

A: We think so, (but) we must not be too hard on that conservatism, because younger people are breaking away from home. They're breaking away from the traditions of their parents. The incidence of single-parent families has increased by, I think it's 10 percent in five, 10 years. That means divorce, or in some cases a young woman decides to have a baby whether she's married or not.

I get out twice a year and I recruit, and I can't believe the difference I see on campus today from struggle is to (work) with the familiar in a fresh way. Sometimes it means using different colors. You've painted a wreath, but you've put it in a soft blue-gray. All of a sudden, you've got a winning card, because you didn't do it in green. These are the new ones. Beige, tan, mauve.

Q: Very attractive. The colors look Saks Fifth Avenue. fThe sentiment is low key and direct: "Wishing you a blessed Christmas season." Black, gold on black, very severe.

A: In the women's world they're always talking about black -- black and white. Somebody two years ago had a vision -- seeing that black would be a good color this year. Hi-tech is a big thing. Anything with graph paper.

Q: It's selling?

A: Oh, yes. And cats are a big item.

Q: Cats are big? Garfield?

A: Garfield. Cat lovers are taking over the world.

Q: Dogs, too?

A: Not as hot as cats. We've just come through a pig period. Miss Piggy was big.

Q: But generic pigs?

A: We've had some luck with them. Pigs and kisses -- "hogs and kisses" -- the pun is the key to those.

Q: Generic cats?

A: Generic cats are still hot. The interest group is wider than it was with the pigs.

Q: You people are beginning to get worried about people communicating with each other by computer. Will that do away with the need for a greeting card?

A: No. But more and more we are worrying about making greeting cards surrogate gifts. The customer is paying more and more for cards. Of our average price offered, 88 cents, the average price sold is 91 cents. That tells you that she's actually buying higher-priced cards than we're offering. She's leading us, in terms of the price she's willing to pay for the greeting card. That suggests to us that the greeting card is more than simply a mode of communication. Instead of the gift, she is sending the card, and she wants the card to be a lot nicer.

Q: Are you suggesting that people who used to give a gift and include a card with it, are now giving as a gift a card by itself?

A: We know that when times are hard we see higher-priced cards selling a little bit better. That suggests to us that they're replacing a $4 or $5 handkerchief, or a pair of gloves, with a greeting card. So she really wants it to be nice. She wants her friend, or her daughter, or her husband to want to save it, want to keep it, even after the use.

Q: Can you make any predictions about two years hence, five years hence?

A: I can't, but I'll bet you 50-to-1 I've got people who have taken a research trip to New York, or who spent last week in Dallas, and they, through a mysterious ability they have that I don't understand, are sitting up there today contemplating what is going to be right in the future. And it knocks me out the way the so-called Hallmark stylists will sit out there and do things that are going to be exactly right, two years out.

We have one woman in particular who I remember about eight years ago was doing one rainbow after the other. And I thought, "I don't know what she's doing with rainbows." Rainbows had not yet hit. She was doing rainbows like crazy on one party set, gift set, after another. And what she did came into the marketplace on the crest of the wave.