The principals, Marty Neumeier, Paul Polito, and Phil Wernig, formed the partnership over Thanksgiving Day leftovers in November 1969. In April 1972, the partnership became a corporation, Aardvarque Enterprises, Inc. The company was in business from November 1969 until September 1972.
Neumeier and Wernig had been running a fledgling advertising operation in the autumn of 1969. To promote the business, the partners designed the Chistmas card featured in the image below. The minimum press run yielded several thousand more cards than needed. When offered for sale at the UCSB Campus Bookstore, they sold out so fast that the surprised and delighted partners ordered a second press run that also sold out within a week.
The advertising agency went to the back burner. The windfall profits from the first card strongly suggested that a greeting card business might produce a bonanza.
The greeting card market invited competition. There were innumerable small presses for specialty items – wedding, party, and commencement invitations, and so forth. But only the Elephants did greeting cards: Hallmark, American Greetings, and Gibson Rustcraft. They were so gigantic, traditional, and conservative that they had created a void for anything original, imaginative, bohemian or baroque. These characteristics, and a certain sensitivity to the zeitgeist of the ’60s, were Aardvarque’s stock-in-trade.
No greeting card company could survive on seasonal popularity. In addition to producing a full line of Christmas numbers, Aardvarque turned to birthday greetings, all-occasion (which is to say, no occasion) cards, and posters.
Innovation flowed. The Elephants did not offer any card lines with blank space on the insides for buyers to inscribe their own messages. Aardvarque was the first company to do so. Examples of our first Note Cards with blank insides are featured in the Aardvarque Gallery page.
The Elephants stuck to sappy verses for their card copy. No one had ever thought to tell stories on the cards. A few examples of Aardvarque’s Story Card approach are on display in the Gallery.
In spite of the explosion of inventive pop music that had characterized the 1960s, no company had ever brought out cards featuring lyrics from popular songs. Some of these Lyric Card designs line the Gallery.
Another idea that did not occur to the Elephants was cards based on “found art” – in this instance, old photographs unearthed in antique stores and thrift shops. A few of these Old Time Cards decorate the Gallery.
Aardvarque, placing the emphasis on creativity over sentiment, was self-consciously artistic. The company advertised its products as “Disposable Art.”
Neumeier did the art. Wernig did the words. Polito did the hard part: marketing the products. Paul located Harvey Hutter, a New York distributor of cards, posters, and related items typically found in the “head shops”, small boutiques that catered to the tastes of “counter-culture” buyers. Harvey increased Aardvarque sales exponentially.
In order to offer Aardvarque sales reps Joe “Kimo” Sava and Susan Holsapple more products to boost their commissions, Paul founded Abraham Zoo, a company that, in addition to Aardvarque lines, distributed incense, bath salts, and other novelty items (everything from A to Z) from a panoply of small manufacturers.
The warehouse and shipping facilities, located in Santa Barbara and Van Nuys, were run by Pete Neumeier and John Napoli.
The Aardvarque name was Marty’s invention. In 1968, he had toyed with the idea of opening a discotheque, a popular fad from the early 1960s (unrelated to the “disco” craze of the mid to late 1970s.) To be listed first in the phone book under “dance clubs”, Marty adopted a symbol spelled with alphabetical priority – the aardvark – and swapped out the “k” at the end of the word for a “que” to echo the word “discotheque.” Voila! Aardvarque.
The Aardvarque Enterprises logo, also a Neumeier brilliancy, is simply an illustration of an aardvark on a black-bordered square – like a greeting card!