HolyCards.com, founded by Santa Barbara City College marketing professor Julie Ann Brown, is not your everyday e-commerce venture. Inspired by a desire to preserve and share antique European religious images from prayer books and holy cards, Brown has devoted much of her limited free time, and all of her inheritance, to collecting, scanning and posting over 100,000 of “God’s calling cards” on the web.
Taking advantage of travel discount tickets obtained through her airline pilot husband, she scoured eight European countries collecting holy cards and lavishly illustrated antique prayer books at auctions, bookstores and estate sales. In spite of knowing it will be years before she can recoup her $150,000 investment, she is thrilled she is accomplishing her goal of preserving this fragile, paper-based religious art for future generations.
“Time is running out for most antique paper,” said Brown. “Modern technology is a part of God’s plan to help not only with remembering the past but creating future possibilities that at this time we cannot imagine. My goal is to get my entire collection up on the Web before I die. I want to preserve this art, this history, for future generations.”
A fan of holy cards since childhood, she hopes her website’s religious images of Jesus, angels, saints, Easter and Christmas scenes will inspire a new generation of the faithful. “I’m hoping this art will create a resurgence of faith in Europe,” said Brown.
She may be onto something. Entrepreneurs from around the world are finding their way to HolyCards.com for affordable images to use in a multitude of projects. Since the website’s religious images are at least 75 years old, with the majority created in the 1800s and early 1900s, they are royalty-free because they are classified as “public domain” under copyright law. Brown charges a nominal one-time fee of $2-3 per image.
Customers have used her images for projects such as wedding and christening announcements, needlepoint patterns, t-shirt transfers, home schooling materials and personalized holy cards. Sophia Loren’s production company in Canada used many of the images for a mini-series on the lives of the saints while the Hallmark Channel in the U.S. recently used an image of St. Hildegard of Bingen obtained from HolyCards.com. “These images can be used by anyone, from the little entrepreneur to the Vatican,” said Brown.