In the digital age, where we can send images and messages to someone via cell phone, postcards were once a popular form of communication. Postcards allowed people to send images and messages to each other via postal mail. In this article, we’ll explore some of the history of postcards.
The concept of postcards originated in 1865. Dr. Heinrich von Stephan, a Prussian postal officer, proposed the idea, but it was denied. At the time, Stephan’s postcard idea was considered “too radical”. Plus, his peers didn’t believe that people would write their personal information on a card. However, four years later (in 1869), Austria-Hungary decided to use the postcard concept. These postcards didn’t have any images, only text. During the Franco-Prussian War, soldiers started using postcards to send messages to their families back home. The first picture postcard appeared in 1870 in France. August Schwartz, a German book dealer, designed this illustrative postcard.
In the 1880s, the demand for picture postcards increased. People started collecting postcards at the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris after the construction of the Eiffel Tower. Many of these postcards had drawings of the Eiffel Tower on them.
Similarly, in the US, Chicago’s 1893 World Fair featured postcards as collectibles.
In addition, many middle- and upper-class Americans started traveling for leisure. This meant that these vacationers wanted souvenirs from their travels, and postcards served that purpose for them.
Furthermore, the “Act of Congress of May 19, 1898” allowed private publishers and printers to produce postcards that cost one cent. These postcards were labeled as “Private Mailing Cards”, and they were now the same price as the government printed cards. Then, in 1901, the labeling of “private mailing cards” changed to just postcards. The Post Office Order No. 1447, issued by the Postmaster-General, allowed this change. Between 1905 and 1915, nearly a billion postcards were mailed per year in the US.
At the end of WWI, the demand for postcards started to decline. The increased use of the telephone was one of the reasons for this. Plus, American printers weren’t as advanced as other countries such as Germany (who dominated the postcard printing market). This meant that America could no longer import German postcards, due to the war. However, people still collected postcards, and this introduced the White Border Period. The White Border Period (1915 – 1930) of postcards allowed printers to use less ink when printing postcards. The printers didn’t print to the edge of the postcard. So, this left a white border around the image of the postcard. Also, this left space on the postcard to put the name of the place where the image is from.
After the White Border Period, the Linen Period (1930 – 1945) of printing postcards began. Printing companies start printing postcards that had “high rag content” which made postcards look like they were printed on linen. German-born printer, Curt Teich created and popularized this process in 1931. Linen postcards had colored images due to the brighter dyes used in the printing process.
In 1939, the Photochrome/Chrome Period of postcards started. This photochrome process made postcards appear glossy and colorful. Photochrome postcards were similar to real photographs. Although this period stared in 1939, the Photochrome period wasn’t popular until 1950. In addition, these are the type of postcards we usually see today.
We can’t talk about the history of postcards without discussing some of the artists who created them. There are many artists worth mentioning throughout the different postcard eras. Some of these artists include Miles Sater, Giovanni Nanni, Josefine Allmayer, Louis Wain, and Fritz Gilsi.
Miles Sater, a lithographer and illustrator, designed P.F. Volland’s Art Lover Series postcards. These postcards showed scenic areas of Chicago.
Giovanni Nanni, painter and illustrator, started designing postcards during WWI. Most of Giovanni’s postcards featured women in fashionable clothing. In his postcards, the fabric patterns of the women’s scarves were the focal point of the design.
Josefine Allmayer was an illustrator who designed postcards that consisted of silhouettes. Her postcards focused on nature and religious themes.
Louis Wain, illustrator, created postcards of anthropomorphic (having human traits) cats. Throughout Wain’s career, he “designed over 600 postcards”.
Mili Weber, painter and illustrator, created watercolor postcards. Fantasy and fairy tale were the themes of her postcards.
Comment below which period of the history of postcards is your favorite. Also, comment your favorite postcard artist.