It’s happened to the best of us. You’re off to the party or an evening with a special someone. You congratulate yourself on picking out the perfect gift when you suddenly realize: "I forgot to get a card!" Popping into the nearest chain drugstore would be an exercise in futility, since Hallmark’s trademark pastel hues and schmaltzy prose have a syrupy sweetness better suited for drizzling on your pancakes.
But rest assured, there’s a better way. The retro gift boutique Shelf Life stocks a selection of cards ranging from the sweet to the snide. Owner Patrick Lally even has an entire display devoted to the classification "general sass." Mik Wright cards ($3.25) fall into that category; their campy photos of gals in curlers or freckled young troublemakers on the front and cynical witticisms within will please even the most discerning John Waters fan.
If you play your, er, cards right, you could pull off the card-and-gift-in-one trick. After all, a scratch-and-sniff/glow-in-the-dark card ($3), also at Shelf Life, brings hours more multisensory enjoyment than the vase you were considering. For those exceptional people in your life, the ones for whom prefabricated sentiments won’t do, there are a few blank notes to choose from, like the really swell handmade ones featuring magazine ads from the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s ($3.25).
If less bite and more beauty is your bag, check out the Harvard Book Store’s recently launched line of blank-inside handmade cards ($3). If you’re particularly captivated by the original piece of art you purchase, just ask to meet the artist. Each of the drawings, silkscreen images, and photos that adorn the cards’ exteriors has been designed by one of the store’s own employees, who are all "in touch with Cambridge’s underground art scene," says Mary Traester, who coordinates the store’s program.
Rugg Road Paper Company also features cards made by local artists, but these sit side by side with those of various foreign purveyors ($2.50–$6). Some are laden with glitter, beads, or buttons. All, however, are printed — and some even letter-pressed ($3.50), the oldest printing technique — on heavy card stock guaranteed to impress a card cognoscente. The benefits of selling handmade cards in a gourmet-paper store are not lost on owner Amy Madanick. If you feel particularly inspired, pick up a "bag of scraps" ($5). It’s chock full of exquisite bits of petal-infused pulp, lacy rayon-based sheets, marbleized bark, and translucent vellum so you can make your own cards.
Who knows? With all these appealing options, you might actually find yourself (gasp!) buying cards ahead of time.
Where to get it:
• Harvard Book Store, 1256 Mass Ave, Cambridge, (617) 661-1515.
• Rugg Road Paper Company, 105 Charles Street, Boston, (617) 742-0002.
• Shelf Life, 619 Tremont Street, Boston, (617) 266-3831.