A BRIEF HISTORY OF POSTCARDS

Ray Boas, Bookseller
PO Box 757
44 Elm Street
Walpole, NH  03608-0757

Collecting postcards is a rewarding, educational, and relatively inexpensive hobby.  A collection can be formed in many, many ways.  Cards may be collected from one's home town, around a holiday theme such as Halloween, and I even once met someone who collected postcards depicting "Outhouses."  The possibilities are limitless, and many ideas can be found in any of the books about postcard collecting.  The more one knows about a hobby and its history, the more fun the hobby can become.  On this page I have provided a brief history of postcards in the United States with some examples.

PIONEER ERA - Pre 1898

In 1861, the first copyright for a postcard in the US was issued to John P. Charlton of Philadelphia.  Later in 1873, the US Government issued it's first postal card, but it was not until the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition in 1893 when full color postcards were sold as souvenirs.  A card from a series of 12 published by Charles W. Goldsmith is shown below.  These cards were printed on printed stamped government postals, with one side reserved for the address only.

PRIVATE MAILING CARD (PMC) ERA - 1898 to Dec. 24, 1901

"An Act of Congress May 19, 1898" authorized private printers and publishers to produce their own postcards. The actual production date of July 1, 1898 marked the end of the Pioneer Era and beginning of the Private Mailing Card (PMC) Era.  Most of the PMCs were souvenir cards, and early "greetings from" types.  Shown below is a PMC published by the Mt. Tom Railroad in Holyoke, Mass. showing the railroad line going up the mountain to the resort there to view the Connecticut River Valley.  Again, only the address was allowed on the stamp side, and space was left around the image for any message from the sender.  The "Private Mailing Card" logo can be found in many varied styles.

UNDIVIDED BACK - "POSTCARD" ERA - Dec. 24, 1901 to March 7, 1907

The use of the word POST CARD/POSTCARD (as one or two words) was authorized by the government to private printers to replace the Private Mailing Card wording on December 24, 1901.  Writing was still not permitted on the address side, so as seen in the card below, space was still left around the image for a message from the sender.  The card below was published in 1905 by the Rotograph Co. and shows a Scene at Lake Kenosha, Danbury, Conn. Addressed to Cora B. Hall, the message reads simply, "Hello Cora."

DIVIDED BACK - THE GOLDEN ERA OF POSTCARDS - March 1, 1907 to 1915

Finally, on March 1, 1907, postcards with a divided back were permitted.  The address, and the message were now on the same side, allowing for the image to take up the entire front.  Most cards were printed in Germany, and the lithography processes there were so advanced that most cards from this period are spectacular.  Postcard sending and collecting became a mania, and this collecting frenzy was only slowed by WWI which cut off the supply of the quality produced cards from Germany.  Every home had its postcard albums, and communication by postcard was "the norm."  One card in my collection was mailed in the AM to a distant friend saying, "I will arrive on the 4PM train, please meet me."  Oh, yes, reliable mail delivery was more than once a day!!!  The unused , divided back card below shows "The World Famed View from The Catskill Mountain House, NY.

Following WWI, the German publishing industry did not recover.  Cards produced in this country from 1915-1930, typically had a white border, reducing the image size, and saving ink costs.

LINEN ERA - 1930 to 1945 (and later)

New printing processes in this country allowed printing on postcards with a high rag content giving the card a textured feel and allowing the use of bright printing dyes.  Inexpensive to produce, these cards were very popular with roadside establishments for advertising, and document the development of the American roadside.  The linen card to the left is the quintessential linen view (in my opinion) showing the Trylon and Perisphere - the theme of the 1939 New York World's Fair, and the hope for the future.

In 1939, the "Photochrome" (called Chrome) appeared. These high quality colored cards came to dominate, and 1945 starts what we call the "Modern Chrome Era."  The modern card to the left is The Griswold Inn's Taproom in Essex, CT.  Note the popcorn wagon to the left - another collecting interest of mine.

HOME

DIRECTORY
TO OUR SHELVES

NEW
ARRIVALS

ORDERING
INFORMATION