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Postcard History

Postcards began to gain public attention in the late 1800s, growing out of a tradition of illustrated envelopes, stationary and calling cards. Innovative and modern, postcards offered a way for people to send images in tandem with messages to friends and loved ones. Originally, government issued postcards had no pictures. They were bland cream colored cards which could be sent for one cent,  without an envelope. This cheap and efficient method of mail revolutionized communications with its speed and utility. As government regulations changed, private companies were given the right to print cards with images which could be sold for the same one or two cent price tag. Scholars of deltiology, or the study of postcards, compare this quick communication to the modern changes wrought by email. Until 1907, the back of the postcard could be used only for the address. This meant the image on the front had to share the space with any message the sender wanted to include.

Though postcards had been in existence for nearly half a century, in the decade leading up to World War I postcards became an international fad. Part of this craze, in predictable Victorian fashion, was collecting. People throughout the world began to build large collections of postcards, including Queen Victoria herself. Postcards carried images of tourist locations, flowers, beautiful women, and pastoral landscapes. Other cards celebrated holidays, displayed soldiers, or shared a humorous image (although often the humor is lost on the modern observer). Collecting postcards was just one of many collecting crazes at the time. Avid collectors also sought out stamps, stereo cards and lantern slides. Postcards give us a glimpse of the ephemera of the "Belle Epoque,” (the name of the era immediately before World War I) an idea of what people collected and sent and the way they interacted with these objects.

Postcard History