& Exhibiting Picture Postcards (PPCs)
for Collecting Postcards
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
of the Face and Back of the 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
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 ½” x 5 ½”. 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.
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
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
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
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
Architecture (one particular style, several, or all types)
Art Deco/Art Nouveau
Banks (limited to National, or all banks)
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
Disasters (fires, floods, earthquakes, storms, train and ship
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
Lancaster Co., PA (The Amish)
Linens (can be subdivided into dozens of categories)
Novelties (can be broken down into 100+ “types”)
Occupations (your own, many, or all)
Signed Artists, Unsigned Artists (further broken down by artist
Sports (Baseball, Football, or all sports)
Stamps on Postcards
States (your own, several, or all 50)
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
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
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
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
Send postcards to shut-ins/the elderly.
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!!
SHARING YOUR 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
You are a reasonably
knowledgeable postcard collector, love your hobby, and want to share it with
others at every opportunity. What’s
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.