One of my collections involved little or no effort on my part to accumulate. The collection is stored in a few old cigar boxes, informally stacked. Picture postcards are fascinating, pre-Internet ways of communicating. The concept predated Instagram
and Facebook by maybe a century. To receive a picture postcard from a family member or friend, meant that an interesting picture and short message was delivered to your actual, physical mailbox.
The history of the picture postcard is varied according to which nation a person references. In 1861, two events happened that led to the modern American picture postcard. First, the US Congress passed a law to allow privately printed cards of an ounce or less to be sent through the US Mail. Second, John Charlton copyrighted the very first American postcard.
In the United States, the cards came into their own in the later 1800s into the first decade of the 1900s. Hymen Lipman reissued Charlton postcards under his own moniker, “Lipman’s Postal Cards”, in 1870. Two years later, the US Congress added approval of government printing of post cards. In late 1901, the Postmaster-General issued permission for private printers to use the name “Post Card” in place of “Private Mailing Card” on the reverse side of postcards.
Six years later, another law was passed to allow messages on the left half of the reverse side of cards with the right side reserved for the address. This opened the way for the proliferation of picture postcards.
There are three general postcard periods used by collectors to categorize types: The “White Border Period from 1915 to 1930, the “Linen Period” from 1930 to 1945, and the “Photochrome Period” from 1945 to the present day. There is overlap of the categories, and older types are sometimes printed by contemporary printers in “retro” styled products.
I rummaged through one of my cigar boxes and also through some recent acquisitions to share with you in this bluejayblog post.
The image at the top of this page was printed by “Impact” in 1982. It commemorates one of the returns of the Columbia Space Shuttle to its launching site via its “mating” to NASA’s specially altered 747 aircraft. I’m not sure why the agency risked an accident by flying the fighter plane so close to the Shuttle.
Many tourist postcards of the white border era can be considered works of art. Photography studios very carefully tinted monochrome images predating the invention of color photography. Images such as the “Haynes Photo” of Yellowstone Park’s Sylvan Lake look very painterly.
A vertically configured image of the Columbia River Highway is interesting for many reasons. The tinted photograph depicts the unpaved mountain roadway being traversed by very early versions of the automobile. The card was printed by the Oregon News of Portland, Oregon.
My dad received many cards from relatives in Sweden. One of them depicts a folk festival at Dalarna, Sweden. The card was printed by Gerhards Försäljnings AB in Leksand, Sweden.
One of my favorite tourist cards is one I sent to dad from the Netherlands. The photochrome card depicts five windmills located at Kinderdijk, Holland. It was printed by “Euro Color Cards” at Sleeuwijk, Netherlands.
Maybe you are now motivated to look through your own loose photos and postcards. They are an enjoyable form of nostalgia.
The Blue Jay of Happiness likes this quip from Miss Manners: “For email, the old postcard rule applies. Nobody else is supposed to read your postcards, but you’d be a fool if you wrote anything private on one.”