The Story Behind Peanuts and Hallmark

Arnold Shapiro claims that he was always a fan of comics and became hooked on Peanuts in college when he discovered the strip in the Chicago Tribune. Later, when he was on active duty in the army, his fiancé wrote daily and sent each Peanuts strip from the Tribune so he would not miss his Peanuts fix.

Maybe this 1955 strip, which always made me laugh, is one that he liked, too.

Peanuts comic strip, originally published September 6, 1955.

 

Source: corporate.hallmark.com

Mr. Shapiro went to work for Hallmark in 1958, and followed Peanuts in the Kansas City Star after they picked it up in 1959. He says he felt the philosophy in Peanuts would be perfect for greeting cards. He pitched the idea to a cool Joyce C. Hall, the founder of Hallmark. Others on the executive team were more receptive to the idea and persuaded Mr. Hall to give Peanuts a try. A contract was signed with United Media and four prototype cards were produced.

Hallmark greeting card prototype, circa 1959.

Mr. Shapiro knew where the test stores in Kansas City were and visited them two or three times a week, purchasing as may cards as he dared. The cards’ ratings were very high, and based on these ratings, Mr. Shapiro convinced the committee to make a handmade, counter-top merchandiser that would display the four cards near the cash register at each of the test stores. The next month, the ratings were so high that he didn’t need to purchase any more cards himself.

Peanuts comic strip, originally published June 21, 1976.

Hallmark proceeded to develop new Peanuts cards, and Mr. Shapiro made his first trip to meet and work with Sparky in the spring of 1960.

According to Mr. Shapiro, Sparky could see that he knew the Peanuts characters, understood their philosophy, and had some good ideas on how that philosophy could be used on Hallmark cards. Mr. Shapiro said they felt like old friends from the beginning.

Over the years, Mr. Shapiro learned that Hallmark was the only licensee allowed to develop new editorial content for its products (with Sparky’s approval, of course). Hallmark artists would write a ‘sentiment’ for the cards with a suggestion of which characters to use, and Sparky would create pencil sketches for each one. Mr. Shapiro would then send back the drawings with any suggested revisions before Sparky would return the inked drawings for Hallmark to print on the cards.

Peanuts comic strip, originally published July 6, 1963.

Eventually Sparky’s busy schedule prevented him from working on the art, and by the time he and I visited Hallmark in the mid-1970s, the Hallmark artists were doing their own work. I do not remember cards being sent to Sparky in unfinished form after that time.

It’s amazing to think that Mr. Shapiro’s four initial Hallmark cards have led not only greeting cards, but to an entire line of Peanuts party goods, gift wrap, poster books, gift books, and even the “Snoopy for President” campaign in 1968.

“Snoopy for President” holographic button, Hallmark, circa 1972. The “Snoopy for President” campaign was another brainchild of Arnold Shapiro.

When Arnold Shapiro shared his story with me, he added:

“Getting to meet Sparky and working with him for 12 years was one of the most memorable times of my life. Sparky had tremendous insight into human nature.  The fact that the Peanuts strip continues to touch people’s hearts and lives is proof of that.”

We all owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Shapiro for his unique passion and pursuit. And, we look forward to having his collection to display for visitors in the future.

—Jean Schulz

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