“Boys! Girls! Men! Women! If you know just 20 people, you can make at least $50 in your spare time! Because everyone you know loves spectacular, nationally famous greeting cards by Wallace Brown!”

Well! Who could pass up an offer like that? Snazzy cards and $50 in pocket money! (“More likely $100-200!”) Plenty of folks in the 1950s and ‘60s found the idea irresistible, thanks to colorful Wallace Brown ads which appeared in practically every national publication, from comic books and homemaking journals, to slightly spicy “men’s interest” mags.

Wallace Brown offered an enticing variety: the “Royal Deluxe All-Occasion Assortment” (“all embossed, with enhancements including jewels, flocking, feathers, and bronzing”); the “T’all-In-Fun Set” (“terrific designs that tickle the funny bone in the new smart TALL shape”); and the “Christmas Wonderland Splendor Collection” (“beautiful sparkling cards glowing and glistening with old-fashioned Christmas cheer”). Top of the line though, and just right for the futuristic ‘50s and ‘60s: “Surprise Action Pop-Up Cards,” “leaping off the page in three dimensions!”

Nowadays, even the most mundane movie is released in “3-D.” But, when first introduced in the 1950s, “3-D” was something extra-special. Once the cardboard glasses with their varicolored lenses (one red, one blue/green) were perched precariously on your nose, it was time to sit back and thrill, as assorted Bwana Devils and Robot Monsters popped off the screen, practically landing in your lap!

Capturing that similar effect in print took a bit more effort. 3-D Movie Magazine, for instance, came with its own pair of cardboard glasses, so you could successfully view the otherwise blurry pix of “your favorite stars in full, rounded three dimension.” A “3-D” greeting card was another story. Here, origami-like paper folds created an interior “surprise.” When the card was opened,  the folds unfolded, and there was no telling what might spring forth: a fire truck with towering ladder . . .a frolicking kangaroo, her pouch filled with well-wishing joeys . . .a “get well” donkey kicking up its heels . . . a birthday-wishing bowler, knocking down every pin. . . even a 1950s anniversary couple, enjoying their first-ever “TV.”

These were greetings on a grand scale, “cards which say in the modern manner just what’s in the sender’s heart.” And to sell them, all it took was a simple demonstration (“look—that baby elephant is actually waggling his Dumbo-size ears!”). Said Wallace Brown, “They’ll snap up 2, 3, 6 or more boxes right on the spot! Why, you’ll be taking orders right and left, and you’ll keep 50 cents of every dollar you take in!”

But 20 potential buyers? Even though it was “no money down—don’t send a penny,” was this a risk worth taking? Wallace Brown had the answer:

“Don’t know 20 people? Of course you do! Add up a half-dozen relatives, perhaps 5 neighbors, the butcher, the baker, the milkman, your dentist, several friends and other tradespeople, and you’ve already got a lot more than 20. So what are you waiting for?”

What indeed? In their day, these intricately folded cards elicited the same sense of wonder that cards with singing microchips aim for today. And luckily, mint-in-box vintage sets can still be found at garage sales, in the $20-30 range. Who did they belong to? Those long-suffering relatives and unsuspecting dentists who forked over their dollar bills for a box of “18 exquisite pop-up cards,” but never got around to actually sending them? The would-be salesman who kept the cards past their “on approval period,” then had to cough up the purchase price? (yup, there was a catch). Either way, they serve as cheery reminders of days gone by.

The next time you run across a box, snap it up. You may want to send some out. Or, if you’re like me, you may want to keep them all for yourself. They were, after all “the most thrilling cards ever created by anyone.”

Photo Associate: Hank Kuhlmann. 

Donald-Brian Johnson is the co-author of numerous Schiffer books on design and collectibles, including “Postwar Pop”, a collection of his columns. Please address inquiries to: donaldbrian@msn.com.