Postcard Publishing Eras

Postcard Publishing Eras

- Congress authorized Private Mailing Cards, also known as PMCs, effective July 1, 1898 as an experiment to raise revenue for the government. Prior to that postcards, also known as postals, required 2-cent postage for mailing. This was the same cost as a latter. There was no incentive to send a postal due to the smaller size and the cost of postage. PMCs could be sent through the mail for 1-cent postage. The message had to be written on the front and the back side was reserved for the address only. PMCs were new to the market and quickly became popular in large part because of the reduction in the cost of postage. This was the beginning of the Golden Age of Postcards.

Rural Free Delivery was established in the United States in 1896. This new service allowed for home delivery of mail before the introduction of PMCs. It suddenly became possible to send a postal through the mail with a personal message for one cent. Postals became known as “Penny Postcards” since they cost one cent with a one-cent postage rate. Penny postcards were an affordable and effective means of communication. They quickly became the main form of communication during the Golden Age of Postcards, 1898-1915. We discuss the history of postcards in more detail. Look under the Articles section.

The words “Private Mailing Card” were changed to “Post Card” on the backs of postcards in December 1901. This was the beginning of the Undivided Back (U/B) Era of postcards. The same rules applied to these cards as the PMCs; the front side was for the message and the back was for the address. U/B postcards with images had to be designed with an open or blank space on the front for writing the message. Postcards became the rage and were the most popular collectibles in the world in the Golden Age, before WWI.

A major change took place in 1907 when Congress authorized the back of the card to be divided. These cards were called Divided Backs (D/B). Both the message and the address could be written on the back side. The entire front of the card could then be used for an image. Penny postals became even more popular and wide spread at this time. The period of circa 1907 through 1912 was the height of the postcard craze. Hundreds of millions of postcards were published and sent through the mail with messages. The experiment by the government to increase revenue was an outstanding success.

Kodak invented a postcard camera in 1903 that exposed a 3.5x5.5 inch postcard-size negative that could be printed directly onto a blank card. Amateur photography became a popular hobby in the early 20th century and Real Photo Postcards were produced throughout the country, and the world. Other companies followed Kodak’s lead and postcard cameras were sold in every state. Real Photo Postcards are photographic documents and are some of the most important and collectible cards in the hobby. Those early photos developed as postcards are one-of-a-kind  historical records. They are photographic archives that chronicle life as no other souvenir can. The Golden Age of Real Photo Postcards was circa 1903 through 1945.

The Golden Age of Postcards ended in 1915 with the beginning of WWI. Many of the finest and most collectible postcards were printed in Germany. This trade came to a halt with WWI. Postcard factories were damaged or destroyed in the war and trade with Europe came to a halt. The Golden Age came to an end due to the loss of European publishers and the weak economy during and after the war. Postcards no longer were the main form of communication and were replaced by the increased popularity and use of the telephone and radio.

The White Border Era of postcards was the 1920s. The Golden Age was over and postcards were no longer the main form of communication. Postcards sold in America were printed and published in America. The high-quality chromolithographic postcards printed in Europe, and particularly in Germany, were no longer produced and imported to America. The post WWI economy was weak and the papers and inks used to produce postcards in America were of a lower quality. Postcards from this period were not as collectible as they were before WWI. They were a lower quality and not as many were sold or collected. The collectability of White Border postcards is based more on the image and rarity. Because fewer postcards were published in the 1920s they are not as common as earlier postcards from the Golden Age. The other factor that affects the value is condition. Postcards from any era in very good to excellent condition are usually more desirable than cards that are damaged or soiled. The only exception would be rarity and/or the image. White Border postcards were called this name because there was usually a white border around the image.

Linen Postcards were developed by the Curt Teich Company in Chicago at the end of the 1920s. Curt Teich created a printing process called the C. T. Art-Colortone, also known as the “textured linen finish.” The paper stock that was used had a high rag content, hence the name linen. The inks used were of a bright color. Linens were more colorful and attractive than White Border postcards. Linen postcards became very popular. Unfortunately the popularity of linen postcards coincided with the Great Depression of the 1930s, which affected their sales. Even with this challenge Linen postcards were mass produced with views of most areas throughout the country. One special design of Linen postcards were the Large Letter postcards. Large Letters were produced of many locations and events, including the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933 and many of the national parks in 1934. Large Letter Linen postcards remain some of the most collectible postcards in the hobby today. The designs are art deco and were created by in-house artists at the Curt Teich factory.

The Linen Era began to fade out at the end of WWII. Modern Chrome Postcards came on the market in 1939 with the Standard Oil series. Modern Chromes were photographic based postcards with a gloss finish. One reason Standard Oil introduced these postcards is because they used oil in their printing process. They made use of Kodak’s newly refined color film, eliminating the need for color retouching by hand. Postcard production became dominated by multinational corporations, leading to larger numbers of generic cards, rather than the small town scenes that local publishers had produced for decades.

There are two basic periods for Modern Chrome Postcards; pre-zip code 1939-1963, and post-zip code 1964-present. We have used 1995 as a cutoff date for Modern Chromes because of the advent of digital postcards. This is arbitrary but denotes the change in communication from hand-written correspondence to digital communication. Our expertise is based on earlier periods of postcard production. Communication in the internet era is a subject that should be examined and explored. This is beyond our knowledge base. However, it is suffice to say that hand-written correspondence has become less prevalent and that postcards sent through the mail have become fewer over the years. Today virtual postcards and greeting cards are sent around the world. This is instantaneous and inexpensive. The production and use of traditional postcards on paper stock have become less prevalent because of their cost, the fact that they are slower to exchange through the mail, and they are more expensive to mail.

Let us know if you have questions. We will be glad to help you however we can. This information will be updated and expanded as time permits.

Thank you and good luck with your collecting of postcards. If you chose to pursue this hobby you can call yourself a deltiologist.