Postcards History


In the mid-1800s, before postcards existed, small prints and woodcuts were delivered to happy recipients by hand.  They were popular until the first iteration of postcards appeared on the scene around 1860; these were plain postcards that were issued by countries with that country’s stamp affixed.  They were called “Postals”—today, the Spanish word for postcards is “postales”

The first private post card was developed in Philadelphia by John P. Charlton in 1861.  The simple cards had a small border and were labeled “Lipman’s Postal Card, Patent Applied For”.  Charlton had transferred the copyright to Lipman who set out to make the cards famous.

Privately made postcards where postage had to be affixed were introduced in Austria in 1869.  By 1870, picture postcards were the thing!  Picture postcards of the Eiffel Tower launched the mass popularity of the post card in 1889 and 1890.

In the beginning of the 1900s, it is believed that the publishing of printed postcards during this time period doubled every six months.  In the early 1900s,
Deltiology, the hobby of collecting picture postcards became the greatest collectible hobby that the World had ever known.  The official figures from the U.S. Post Office for their fiscal  year ending June 30, 1908, cited 677,777,798 postcards mailed.  At that time the total population of the United States was only  88,700,000!

Deltiology is currently the third largest collectable hobby in the world. It is surpassed only by coin and stamp collecting (in the U.S. baseball collecting is greater, but that is a national past-time not worldwide). The popularity of post cards can be attributed to their broad subject appeal. Almost any subject imaginable has been, at some time, portrayed on a postcard. The broad subject range comes as a result of the social usage cards were designed for. Postcards continue today to be the most popular form of souvenir for travelers as well as economical means of communication both personal and business related.

Pioneer Era, 1870-1898

The first postal card was suggested by Dr. Emanuel Herrmann, in 1869, and was accepted by the Hungarian government in the same year. The first regularly printed card appeared in 1870, a historical card, produced in connection with the Franco-German War. The first advertising card appeared in 1872 in Great Britain. The first German card appeared in 1874. Cards showing the Eiffel Tower in 1889 & 1890 gave impetus to the postcard heyday a decade later. A Heligoland card of 1889 is considered the first multi-colored card ever printed.

In this country, the earliest known exposition card appeared in 1873, showing the main building of the Inter-State Industrial Exposition in Chicago. This card as well as other early advertising cards, usually bearing vignette designs were not originally intended for souvenirs. Thus the first card printed with the intention for use as a souvenir were the cards placed on sale in 1893 at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. During this period all privately printed cards required the regular two cent letter rate postage, the new government printed Postals required only one cent.

Private Mailing Card Era, 1898-1901

Starting in 1898, American publishers were allowed to print and sell cards bearing the inscription, “Private Mailing Card, Authorized by Act of Congress on May 19, 1898″. These private mailing cards were to be posted with one cent stamps ( the same rate a government postals). This was perhaps the most significant event to enhance the use of private postals. As with government postals and previous pioneer cards, writing was still reserved for the front (picture side) of the cards only.

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