Hand-written thank-you notes are de rigueur for gifts

In this age of e-mail and cell phones, has the thank-you note gone the way of the passenger pigeon?

No way, according to a spokeswoman for Hallmark Cards. Good manners and letter writing may, in fact, be making a comeback, if the card company's research is any indication.

Thank-you cards accounted for 2 percent of card sales throughout the industry in the late 1980s.

Today, thank-you cards represent 3 percent of the market. And about 30 percent of consumers today say they are writing more letters, the card company reported.

"A number of social trends seem to be fueling this increase of not only thank-you notes and card use, but also letter and note writing in general," said Rachel Bolton, a spokeswoman for Hallmark.

"The return to interest in tradition…intensified interest in nurturing relationships, a refocusing on manners and etiquette and more entertaining in the home are some of the forces that may be behind this renewed interest in note letter writing."

For Hallmark, thank-you note sales were up 14 percent in 1999 over the previous year.

During her many seminars on etiquette in the workplace, Marjabelle Young Stewart, a doyenne of good taste, also sees more interest in the social graces among young people. But not everyone is getting the word.

"On my book tour, the question I am most often asked is: 'What to do when you don't get a thank-you note for a wedding gift?'" said Stewart, who recently traveled the country promoting her book "Common Sense Etiquette." Her guide to gracious living, published by St. Martin's Press, is one of 15 etiquette books she has in print.

"From the number of questions I get on this subject, I would say a great percentage of brides aren't writing thank-you notes," Stewart said. "I tell brides the only time you don't write a thank-you note is when you don't receive a gift."

To e-mail or telephone a thank-you for a gift, especially a wedding present, is a "no-no," Stewart said.

A personal, handwritten note is still the most appropriate way to respond, Bolton said. "An e-mail doesn't have the personal quality or impact of a hand-written message."

"There is a different feel getting an e-mail as opposed to a personalized thank-you note. An e-mail is a great, quick way to communicate. But, it's too public for personal messages. And thank-you notes are often saved as keepsakes. That isn't possible with a telephone call, and not likely with an e-mail."

Perhaps the thank-you note that is most anticipated is for a wedding gift. Not sending a thank-you note for a wedding gift remains a serious breach of social etiquette, Stewart said.

"Most people expect a thank-you note for a wedding present." If you don't send one, the gift giver can only wait and wonder. Did the store send the gift? Did it get lost? It's just rude not to send a personalized note.

"When you think that the gift giver may have spent a half day looking for just the right gift, and then took time to have it gift-wrapped, a personalized thank-you note, which takes just three minutes, is not too much to ask."

It's also considered a breach of etiquette not to send thank-you notes for many other occasions, such as receiving a Chanukah gift, being treated to dinner, the theater or a movie, or receiving flowers, Stewart said.

"If you are the recipient of a favor — a person writes a letter of reference, or helps you find an apartment, for instance — a thank-you note is the courteous thing to do," she added.

"Writing a thank-you note is simply being kind and courteous."

A good thank-you note, Stewart said, should be enthusiastic and personal. Avoid writing a blah note such as:

Dear Maxine,

Thank you for your nice gift. It was very sweet of you, and I appreciate it.

"After reading a note like that, Maxine probably doesn't even remember what she gave as a gift," the etiquette expert said.

"Tell the donor how you are going to use the present. Put some feeling into it."

A better thank-you note might read:

Dear Maxine,

You cannot imagine what pleasure your scarf has given me. The blues and reds of the paisley print are so lovely; they pick up my tired old winter dresses and make them look fresh again. I have received many compliments on the scarf every time I wear it, and I seem to be wearing it constantly.

I really am delighted with your choice.

A common belief is that one has six months to a year to write thank-you notes for wedding gifts. Unless it's a royal wedding, Stewart believes that is too much time.

"I always say, as soon as possible," she said. "Two months after the wedding is enough time."