Thursday, July 10, 2008

Greetings from Cincinnati!

I thought it'd be appropriate to highlight my return to the local blogosphere by sending an antiquated greeting from the house of one of my old summer jobs, Gibson Greetings. Not a traditional paper card, but a memory of one the many strong brands that sprouted from Cincinnati and eventually spread throughout the country - a bygone era of a once explosive creative industry that the city is now desperately trying to lure back.

The storied Gibson Greeting Card Co. was housed in a massive plant in Amberley Village (Section Road), and was a monster in relieving those of us lacking the right words for various occasions. I call the building a 'plant', because when I used to work there, it felt like you were walking through a factory or warehouse more than how you might envision a creative space.

Because I was an 'art major' (actually, architecture) it was assumed that I was a famous card maker by friends and family - a developer of funny quips and cartoons, entertaining the masses - though in reality, my position on the first floor mindlessly crunching numbers day-in and day-out was a topic that I constantly avoided. It was just a summer job to pay for
my car loan... and my social habits back at school. Nevertheless, it was interesting to see the place from the inside, get the scoop from longtime employees during the company's last days, and pick up a boatload of discounted merchandise.

Anyway, Gibson Greetings really had an interesting history, one that in large part was due to a simple lithography press and the extensive Ohio canals. I won't regurgitate it here, except for this notable beginning:

"Gibson Greeting's history can be traced to 1850, when George Gibson and his family emigrated to the United States from Scotland, where Gibson had operated a lithographic and copperplate engraving business. The family journeyed to the "land of opportunity" with a small French-made lithography press. While Gibson, his wife, and daughters eventually settled in St. Louis, one of Gibson's five sons found work with a canal system that led him to Cincinnati. His three brothers followed and decided they would go into business using the small press. In 1850, the Gibson brothers, Stephen, 34, Robert, 18, George, 14, and Samuel, 12, founded Gibson & Company, Lithographers." Source.

Well, what really sparked the idea for this post was finding Gibson's spread-of-influence in the greeting card realm over 100 years from its inception... at Disneyland. Specifically, I'm a big fan of Kevin Kidney (& Disney), so when one of his posts crossed hairs with Cincinnati history, I knew I had to share.

Disneyland Gibson Greeting Cards illustration (1955).
"Part of an original pencil layout created in 1955 for a full-color newspaper section
presenting some of the 'many delights and wonders that are yours to enjoy at Disneyland.'"


It's pretty obvious that Gibson had a strong presence throughout the country at that time, noted as an early investor in the original Disneyland theme park in California, and reiterated in the newspaper article about Disneyland's opening (provided by Kevin):

"...the quaint old charm of the shop itself forms a sharp contrast to the newly-planned modern $3,500,000 home of The Gibson Art Company, 2000 miles away in Cincinnati, Ohio...where hundreds of millions of cards are created each year."

Note: The Gibson Art Company name evolved from the original Gibson & Company, Lithographers, and was a precursor of the Gibson Greeting Card Co., which later became Gibson Greetings, Inc., with an expanded offering of goods.

The following photos reflect the 'quaint old charm' facade of Gibson's Disneyland shop, as the news article suggests...

Gibson's Greeting Card shop & Main Street, Disneyland, CA (1958). 

Gibson's Greeting Card shop, Disneyland, CA (1960).
Interesting description of these photos at the source site.
Source: Stuff from the Park.

Gibson's Greeting Card shop interior, Disneyland, CA (undated).
Promotional photos of rare postcards.
Source: Gorillas Don't Blog.

Although I didn't really feel that long-established sense of history when working there in my 20s, it's kind of sad to see a vetrabrae of Cincinnati's once creative backbone seemingly dissolve into thin air (especially for a competing Ohio city). The structure itself has new life, as do many other historic buildings in our town, but without the tradition that our forefathers brought to create this great place.

In spite of this, I'm not saying that I miss trudging into that big box paper mill everyday. And looking back, it's almost amusing to think of Gibson's assets and potential suitors. Nevertheless, my repetitive amplified nostalgia for Cincinnati lore often ignores the fact that, in the end, these sometimes unhappy endings are just a result of the effects of commercialization on society, advances in technology, ever-changing tastes of consumerism, and the transient nature of business as a whole.

Anyway, cheers, Gibson Bros. It was beautiful for awhile.

Read more about the Ohio canal system here, and Gibson's later involvement with Disney in this 1984 timeline. More on the late 'Silly Slammers' craze here and here.

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