Collecting & Exhibiting Picture Postcards

Collecting & Exhibiting Picture Postcards (PPCs)


The Craze for Collecting Postcards


by Barbara A. Harrison


It�s hard to explain why people collect things. Why does one child in a family collect and another does not? Could it be a �collector gene� that is passed down? Why do we seek, gather, accumulate, classify, and hoard certain things? With postcards, I like to think that it�s because we want to learn about the past and preserve those beautiful and interesting little reminders of a time when life was lived at a slower pace and was a whole lot less complicated.


Collecting one thing or another was a popular hobby for a long time before the postcard came into existence. But no craze had been quite as fanatical as collecting postcards. Originally postal cards (the plain, official type with imprinted stamp of the 1870�s) were regarded as a branch of stamp collecting (philately). By the end of the 19th century, their beauty was appreciated, and postal cards were collected on their own merit.


Picture postcards became popular in Europe, and by 1893 private publishers in America produced the first American series for the Chicago World�s Fair. Many philatelic publications considered picture postcards as �rubbish,� and felt the country would be inundated by them, especially if postcards were produced for every historical event. This is an opinion still staunchly held by some traditional stamp collectors even today. Little did the public at the turn of the 20th century realize that these reminders of historical events would prove to be among the postcard�s special attraction.


Mere figures are inadequate to give a clear picture of the popularity of the postcard just after 1900, but it may be helpful to note that in 1903, when the postcard cult was near its peak, the number sent through the post in Great Britain had grown nearly ten times since 1871, when the total had staggered the Post Office. Even so, the British total of over 600 million for 1903 was exceeded by that of the U.S. and was only modest compared with Germany�s total, which was well over a billion, increasing half as much again only 3 years later. In every country in Europe the figure was in the millions; no country was without postcards. In 1905 alone, it was estimated that the post offices of the world coped with over seven billion postcards!


The hobby of collecting picture postcards produced in Europe had begun in the early 1890�s and was in full swing throughout the world well before the end of the 19th century. Collectors liked their cards to be posted from the place pictured on the card, and when traveling often sent postcards to themselves, in order to get the postmarks. Edwardian collectors most commonly placed their little treasures in albums, which were then enjoyed by family and friends in their parlor (or drawing room). Friends could thereby be impressed by the family�s wealth and ability to travel widely.


Few postcards were discarded, and once the Golden Age of Postcards passed (around 1918), the albums were eventually tucked away in dusty attics, where many remained for decades. Somewhere around the 1970�s interest was renewed in the collection and enjoyment of old postcards, as many of these beautiful collections began to show up in estate sales, yard sales, and antique shops. �Many of these wonderful old postcards from the �Golden Age of Postcards - 1898-1918� are really historical artifacts, worthy of our study and preservation. Within the pages of those dusty, sometimes musty old albums can be found the story of an entire past generation, which is most likely the best chronicle of life at the turn of the 20th century. When these treasured albums come to light, the cards, which often emerge from the attics in outstanding condition, are eagerly sought by collectors who see in them the history and people of a bygone era and want to add them to their own collections.


We owe a great debt to those collectors of nearly 100 years ago for their foresight in collecting the wonderful cards of the period, and for carefully preserving them for us to enjoy in the 21st century.


Postcards 101:� The World of Deltiology


DELTIOLOGY is the collection, study, and preservation of picture postcards for fun, recreation, relaxation, and enjoyment - and for the historical preservation of life in years past. Many people collect because they are nostalgic or perhaps yearn for a time they never experienced. Antique cards give us a glimpse of the past; modern cards picture contemporary times. Antique cards tell us about social climate and life style, changes in transportation and business, and show us what existed before a disaster or a wrecker�s ball had its way. They remind us of places that are gone, or changed beyond recognition. They hold memories!


DELTIOLOGY is closely related to collecting EPHEMERA, which is the term for OLD paper items that would routinely have been thrown away, but have been saved and collected. Such items would include stock certificates, letterheads and billheads, greeting cards, advertising cards, cigar bands, Civil War letters, old letters of various kinds including WWI and WWII, broadsides, menus, interesting covers (envelopes), calling cards, sheet music, magazine advertisements, catalogs, magazines, auto owner manuals, matchbook covers, calendars, and so forth. Many postcard collectors also collect one or many types of ephemera, in addition to often being stamp collectors.


Evolution of the Postcard


1843 (England): Sir Henry Cole produced for personal use a Christmas greeting printed on one side of cardboard, inserted in an envelope.


1860�s-1880�s:� Carte de visit:� Small, mass-produced photographs depicting famous people, views, works of art, and other subjects, some in color. It became popular to have family portraits taken by local photographers, with the affluent displaying these photos in elaborate family albums in their parlor.


Calling Cards:� On appropriate occasions, particularly New Year�s Day, members of high and not-so-high society �scrambled� to one another�s homes, dropping off their calling cards (with their name, perhaps embellished with a lithographed scene and later a photograph), to be accepted on a silver tray by the recipient�s maid, or placed on a receiver (called a silver salver) on a hall table. This Victorian formality was eventually replaced by greeting cards, in later years, when the postman did the walking from house to house, instead of the visitor.


1870�s-1890�s:� Trade cards/advertising cards:� Distributed free by thousands of commercial establishments, they brought us one step closer to the picture postcards of today. Advertising cards were distributed by merchants on sidewalks and street corners, outside their establishments, hoping to bring them new customers. Many cards came in sets, with the merchant hoping to entice the customer to return in following weeks to collect more cards in the set. This was their form of advertising before it became common to advertise in magazines and newspapers.


Late 19th Century:� Stereoscopes were popular items found in most Victorian parlors. They were optical instruments with two eyeglasses, used for obtaining a single image from the view cards (stereocards), which contained two nearly identical photographs of an object or a scene, taken from slightly different points of view, or angles. The object or scene thus viewed appears to be three dimensional. After the turn of the century, many stereoscope views were reproduced on picture postcards.


1869-1898 Pioneer Period:� In 1869, Austria issued the world�s first postal card (govt. card with imprinted stamp). May 13, 1873, U.S. issued its first postal card. May 1, 1882, first commemorative postcard issued at Nuremberg ( Germany) Exhibition (first privately published, non-government issue). 1889, souvenir cards posted from Eiffel Tower, giving impetus to postcard collecting. Most U.S. Pioneer Card collections began with cards placed on sale May 1, 1893, at Columbian Exposition in Chicago. These were illustrations on government printed 1 cent postal cards and privately printed souvenir cards (2 cent adhesives applied). Pioneer Cards were never described as postcards or postal cards (on address side) but said �Mail Card,� �Souvenir Card,� etc. They have a pre-May 19, 1898, cancellation, and a 2-cent stamp (or 5-cent for international mail). They have a higher value than cards of the same design produced after that 1898 date.


1898-1901 Private Mailing Cards (or PMC) Period:� No messages were allowed on address side. Postcard publishers and the public pressured Congress to allow privately produced postcards with handwritten messages to be mailed at the same one-cent rate as government postal cards. Visitors at tourist attractions, as well as immigrants, were anxious to impress their friends and family with their travels, but were reluctant to pay this extra postage to mail a card that already cost a penny or two to purchase. The groundswell of political pressure forced Congress to act - and the passage of the Private Mailing Card Act of May 19, 1898, allowed the privately printed cards to be mailed first class for one cent, ushering in the �Golden Age of Postcards.�


Evolution of the Face and Back of the Postcard


1901-1907 �Postcard Period� (Dec. 24, 1901):� PMC Act was rescinded and USPO allowed �Post Card� on the back of privately printed cards, no longer requiring �PMC.� Messages still had to be written on the face of the card. Sometimes a small space was left at the bottom of the picture where a very brief message could be written. Sometimes it was about an inch wide blank on the right side of the picture. These are known as message face cards. Many examples are available which show how the senders wrote very small, and stretched their messages all around the outer edges of the cards. We also can find many examples of this period which have messages written on every available space on the picture side. This is often called the �Undivided Back Period.� Within a few years, the term Postcard was popular. At this point, American printers began to take the postcard seriously and entered the market. Britain also allowed private issues at this time and standardized the size of its cards.


Divided Back Period, 1907-1915:� In January 1902, Britain was the first country to permit divided back postcards for domestic use. France followed in 1904, and Germany in 1905. The postcard craze reached its peak in Europe in 1905. Important legislation was passed on March 1, 1907, when the U.S. Post Office first allowed the sender to write a message on the back of the card (in addition to the name and address of the recipient). Cards printed after March 1, 1907, had a center vertical line drawn on the back to divide the message area from the address area and stamp box. This era is known as the �Divided Back Period.�


White Border Period, 1915-1930:� Even though U.S. postcard printing technology was improving, many publishers were still distributing inferior cards. Use of postcard greetings greatly declined. Views remained strong because of increased auto travel and the great demand for �wish you were here� souvenir postcards. The period got its name from the white borders which appeared around the pictures, giving a new look to postcards. It was popular until the 1930�s, when the Linen Era took over.


Linen Period, 1930-1940�s:� Virtually all cards of this period feature paper that had been lightly embossed in a linen texture, and were printed in bright, often gaudy colors. Most photos were airbrushed, giving an almost unreal, �painted� look. For example, in a street scene, telephone wires (and sometimes the poles) would be removed by airbrush to make the picture �neater.� Some linens were without the borders that were the trademark of the �white border period.� For many years, linens were considered to be ugly, unattractive, and even grotesque - but now have renewed popularity.


Chrome (Photochrome) Period, 1939-present:� 1939 marked the beginning of the �chrome� era (the use of color photographic film for the direct reproduction of views on postcard stock - the term is derived from Kodachrome). Union Oil used this new printing medium for different series of cards:� 1939, 1940, 1941, 1947, 1948, and 1950 - they were available with a minimum gasoline purchase in Union Oil facilities, mainly in the Midwest and Far West. Another early chrome set was produced for Macy�s Department Store, in New York City. It was a set of 12, with a 1939 copyright. Chromes were the standard postcard size used for 70 years - 3 �� x 5 ��. But by the late 1950�s and early 1960�s, the larger size called �continental chromes� were used in Europe, eventually finding their way to the U.S. around the 1970�s, when this larger size �continental� became the norm in the U.S. also. �


The Golden Age of Postcards (1898-1918)


The �Golden Age� of postcards began in 1898, when the majority of postcards were printed in Europe, on top quality presses, were highly embossed, and used high quality paper and expensive, brightly colored inks.


This period saw the transition of the postcard as a simple souvenir of a vacation trip to a collecting fad of almost manic proportions, rivaling stamp collecting, which was itself becoming a very important pastime. Postcards appeared everywhere:� newsstands, drugstores, cutout cards in Sunday newspaper supplements, and card offers on the sides of cereal boxes. There were over 1,500 better postcard publishers that produced billions of postcards, including thousands of �sets,� offering the public opportunities to collect sets instead of singles, as a way of increasing sales. People just couldn�t resist the lure of the beautifully lithographed penny postcard (printed in Europe).


Because of World War I, the printing presses of Austria and Germany became inaccessible to U.S. companies. Postcards then had to be printed in the U.S., where paper, inks, and printing presses were inferior. The quality and beauty of postcards changed immediately, and they were never again the same. Coupled with these quality changes were other factors, such as high tariffs on imported postcards and changing methods of communication for the ordinary citizen, such as the availability of the telephone. By 1918, the �Golden Age� of postcards had come to its end.


The �Golden Age� describes not only the exceptional quality, never to be duplicated, of the postcards themselves, but also the �gold� that was mined and is still being mined in the sales of postcards by dealers to collectors. The beautiful European chromolithographed cards remain highly collectible and much enjoyed by today�s collectors of antique postcards.


I LOVE Old Postcards - How Can I Get More?


         Begin by cleaning out drawers, attics, old boxes; look for old albums and scrapbooks.

         Purchase old cards and collections at flea markets, auctions, postcard auctions, from dealers at shows. Even though you can occasionally find a good card or two in an antique shop, the cards are generally fairly common, in less than good condition, and often over priced. Choose cards in the best condition that you can afford.

         Tell family and friends of your interests. They may have some unwanted cards tucked away.

         You should NEVER, NEVER refuse a picture postcard which is given to you. Even if it doesn�t interest you at the moment, you may find it of extreme interest later, as your collection grows and your interests become more diverse. You can always give it to a new collector, a child, or trade it for something else.

         Most collectors eventually end up with a sideline collection of newer cards, including chromes. Even if you don�t care for them, don�t throw them away -- at least give them a temporary home in your collection. They are tomorrow�s record of today�s history.

         Look for postcards wherever you go (on vacation, in stores, museum shops, gift shops, drugstores, airports, bookstores, supermarkets). You can use them for �traders.�

         Look for free rack cards (generally advertising cards), often available at restaurants, stores, hotels, rest stops. If you don�t need them, you can give them to children, or trade them. �

         Ask family and friends to send postcards to you when traveling.

         Send them to yourself when on vacation (a daily postcard to yourself provides an excellent trip diary).


Now That I Have Them, What Do I Do With Them?


First, arrange your picture postcards (PPCs) in a logical way.


         Begin by using storage boxes (archival quality is best), and make or purchase dividers for each of your topics or interests.

         You will probably soon decide to use binders (such as 3-ring), and should purchase good quality, archival divided pocket pages made for postcards.

         The most basic arrangement is alphabetically by topic. For your views, you will most likely arrange by geographical area. If you arrange foreign cards by country and U.S. cards by state, you can further break down by city (or county).

         CAUTION:� Be forewarned that PPCs are known to multiply in the darkness of night. You may wake up one morning to find 10,000 unsorted PPCs piled in boxes and stacked on your work area in your hobby room! Try explaining that one to your spouse!!!!


As you begin to sort and store your postcards, you will need to think about topics. Of the hundreds of subjects you can collect, listed below are just a few ideas to get you started. Most of these topics can be further subdivided into a few divisions, and other topics lend themselves to dozens of subdivisions.




         Airships, Dirigibles, Blimps, Zeppelins


         Animals (collect several kinds, or ALL kinds, arranged alphabetically; or collect the animals of a particular country, region, or continent)

         Architecture (one particular style, several, or all types)

         Art Deco/Art Nouveau


         Babies/Children/Storks/Birth Announcements

         Banks (limited to National, or all banks)


         Big Letters


         Chromes, Modern

         Churches (a particular denomination, or all churches)

         Cities (just 1, several favorites, all those cities you have visited, or perhaps the city in which you were born)


         Countries (1 or 2, European, Far Eastern, or all countries of the world)

         Court Houses

         Detroit Publishing

         Disasters (fires, floods, earthquakes, storms, train and ship wrecks, etc.)


         Expositions, Fairs, Special Events


         Greetings (Birthday, General, Valentines, St. Patrick�s Day, Easter, Memorial Day, July 4, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Santas, New Year�s - each can be further sorted into anywhere from 5 to 25 or more divisions)

         Gruss Aus cards of Germany

         Historical Events


         Hospitals, Sanitariums




         Lancaster Co., PA (The Amish)

         Linens (can be subdivided into dozens of categories)

         Medicine, Pharmaceutical

         Merry Widows


         Movie Stars

         Novelties (can be broken down into 100+ �types�)

         Occupations (your own, many, or all)


         Post Offices

         Rally Day

         Real Photos





         Shell Borders


         Signed Artists, Unsigned Artists (further broken down by artist name)

         Space Related

         Special Publishers

         Sports (Baseball, Football, or all sports)

         Stamps on Postcards

         States (your own, several, or all 50)


         Washington, D.C.

         World War I and World War II


The subjects of Political and Social History encompass a wide variety of topics:� presidential campaigns; presidential family photos; presidential trips; inaugurations; memorial cards after disasters; armed conflicts, wars; victory parades; suffrage; prohibition, temperance; ethnic history; transportation (autobus, river steamers, airplanes); social climate (cities, ghettoes, towns); industry, manufacturing; occupations, people at work, working conditions; agriculture, farming; interior views (early stores, barbershops, drug stores); changing fashions (hobble skirts, harem skirts, Merry Widow hats); architectural styles; home furnishings.


View cards can encompass many topics:� hometown; by publisher (such as Detroit, Rotograph); topic (such as main streets, trolley cars/horse-drawn vehicles, early fire engines/fire stations, railroad depots); covered bridges; styles of architecture; penal institutions.


The above will give you an idea of how narrowly or how broadly your collection can be defined. In most cases, you will find that as the years pass, you will continue to add new topics of interests.


Today�s Collectors can Help to Ensure a Good Supply of Postcards for Future Generations


         Send lots of postcards to family and friends when you travel.

         Accumulate cards for yourself as you travel.

         Send postcards to family and friends to let them know you are thinking of them, remind of a meeting, say thank you, say hello, or send a note of cheer.

         Send postcards to shut-ins/the elderly.


Include Interesting Messages on Your Cards


         DON�T say �The weather is fine - having a good time.� Use imagination and creativity.

         Include lots of facts and information; write neatly and small, so you can fit in a large message.

         REMEMBER:� Many years from now your well-written postcards MAY be an important part of someone�s postcard collection!!




As you begin to get your collection organized, you also need to use and enjoy it. You will learn a lot as you study the cards, read their messages, study the postmarks, and read books about postcards and the areas you collect. You are then ready to share the joy of your postcards. Here are a few suggestions:�


         Since you should have already sought out your local postcard club, you can offer to be a speaker at occasional meetings, sharing your wonderful postcards and the knowledge you have gathered.

         Speak to your local postmaster about putting up a monthly �board� of picture postcards (assuming they have a locked wall case in which to place your display). Some may actually jump at such an opportunity. You can include some description of the topic, along with some historical notes. Such a public display will generate a lot of interest, possibly some publicity, and most likely a number of requests to share your collection and speak at such places as local historical societies, local church groups, women�s groups, and local museum groups. You will be amazed at how many people will tell you they look at the displays and how much they enjoy them.

         Contact your local library to see if they are capable and/or willing to do a similar display within the library itself.

         Contact your local elementary school and offer to do a presentation for interested students.

         Contact your local senior citizens group. They are always looking for speakers and will thoroughly enjoy postcard presentations.

         Be available to talk about your hobby to other groups, such as scouts.


You are a reasonably knowledgeable postcard collector, love your hobby, and want to share it with others at every opportunity. What�s next?


You are ready to enter a new and exciting phase of postcard collecting:� the world of competitive postcard exhibiting (through the American Philatelic Society). All you need is a nice collection, the willingness to learn how to prepare an exhibit, a little bit of writing skill and creativity, and the desire to create an interesting exhibit with a dual purpose:� to inform and entertain the public and have the possibility of receiving a nice medal award for your exhibit. In addition, you will meet dozens of other collectors/exhibitors, from all around the country, who will be willing to encourage you and help you learn how to prepare an exhibit. A side benefit may likely be that you will enjoy this challenge SO much that you just MAY rekindle your desire to work on your stamp and other philatelic collections that have been gathering dust on your shelves.

August 2007