United States Postcards


Figure 1.--America in the early 20th century had only a small post card industry. Many of the cards used in America wee imported, especially from Germany. The imported cards were often of a higher quality than American cards. This printed and hand colored card was mailed in America during 1915. Notice the quality of the color coloring and the Europen look of the children's clothes and building, despite the English-language caption. Put your cursor on the image to see the back.

It is interesting to note that America at this time also had a postcard industry. Post cards began to appear in large numbers during the early 1890s. Imports, especilly imports from Germany, were very important in America--at least until World War I (1914-18). Beautifully dressed children, however, were never as popular on American postcards as on English and French postcards. Actually beginning in the 1900s and continuing in the 1920s, Americans could choose to have their photographs developed with a postcard back. This allowed the photos to be mailed to family and relatives like postcards. Large numbers of these cards exist. In France, however, people appeared to have preferred to purchase ready made postcards like this one. A discerning collector can date many post cards even if they have not been postally used.

Postage

Postcards for a long time were were called penny potcards because the postage was a penny (1 cent). The potage over time is a little complicated, but important because it can help date cards. A postcard specialist tells us, "The domestic post card was authorized to be mailed at the same rate as government postal cards on July 1, 1898. Post cards were of course available well before 1898, but previously they were charged the higher letter rate, not a flat 2. This 1898 1 card rate continued until November 2, 1917 (the "war tax" increase) when the rate was effectively increased to 2. On July 1, 1919, the rate was reduced back to 1. However on April 15, 1925, the "postal" card rate stayed 1 and the "post" card rate increased to 2. This condition continued until July 10, 1928, when both "postal" and "post" card were again charged 1. On January 2, 1952, the card rate went to 2 and has been increasing every since (except as you note from September 14, 1975 to December 31, 1975 when the rate actually decreased from 8 to 7). Most of the card rates (domestic including charges for pre-sorting and automation, and also international rates) are tabulated in the United Postal Stationery Society's 2005 United States Postal Card Catalog." [Bussey]

Imports

HBC does not yet have details about the U.S. postcard industry. Many early cards were apparently imported from Germany. We do not know how successful French nd English printers were, both countris had large post card industries. The German cards seem to have bter color prining technology. Here Germany's advanced chemical industry gave the entrpeneurs in many industrues a considerable advantage. The German cards are relatively easy to identify because they were labeled "Printed in Saxony" or some other German state. Some said "Printed" or "Mde" in Germany". As far as we can tell, excepted for prining English greetings and Ennglish backs, the German companies made not effort to create images especially designed for the American market. They seen to have just used cards they created for the German market. The scenes are recognizably German as is the clothing the children are depicted wearing. This does not seem to have affected their popularity on the Ameican market.

World War I (1914-18)

The U.S. post card industry was given a strong impetus when World War I broke out in Europe in 1914. The Royal Navy blockaded Germany when the War broke out (August 1914). It then became very difficult for Germany to export goods like the postcard here (figure 1). They also had difficulty importing raw materials. This was eventually to have a major impact on the War. Even before America entered the War in 1917, trade with Germany had been significantly curtailed. American postcard companies rapidly expanded their operations. After the War ended (1918), German companies were never avle to recover the market they once dominated.

Subjects

Beautifully dressed children, however, were never as popular on American postcards as on English and French postcards. Actually beginning in the 1900s and continuing in the 1920s, Americans could choose to have their photographs developed with a postcard back. This allowed the photos to be mailed to family and relatives like postcards. Large numbers of these cards exist. In France, however, people appeared to have preferred to purchase ready made postcards.

Collecting

Collecting old postcards was once a popular hobby. While this is less true tday, they are still popular. The large numbers prinyed means that the cost of these cards is still modest, meaning that almost anyone can aford to collect them.

Historical Significance

The humble penny postcard is an item of today that is of some historical importance. Picture postcards were made of landscapes and city scapes as well as important buildings, streets, and memorials accross the country. The image of late 19th cetury, but more early 20th cebntury America was captured on the penny postcard. Various scenes of life were preserved in color from virtually every city, town, and village across America. The souvenir post card preserved the outward appearance of American towns and cities. The snapshot photographically printed as postcards preserved the more personal lives of Americans. And then were the the greeting postcards which often had children and adults in fancy dress as many wanted to imageine themselves dressing or how thaey would have liked to dress their children.

Chronology

The postcard fad in America began in the big cities. Postcards began to appear in the cities such as New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington, D. C., where tourists purchased picture postal cards to mail back home to friends and relatives. Popular exhibitions beginning in the 1890s all had postcards printed. Tourists like to send greetings and to impress the folks back hime. Others bought the cards to put in their personal albums when they returned. Such albumns were a mainstay of the Victoroan and Edwardian home and still popular in America as late as the 1950s. Not everyone was a photographer, especially in the 1890s before the Kodak Brownie so these cards were a colorful addition to the family albumns. Soon the post card fad spread from the big cities to smaller towns and villages. A basic chronology of postcards in America can be very useful in dating the cards. The dating of the postcard for years or eras of issue can be accurately determined if the card is studied for identity points. Research has already been done by earlier historians and guidelines have been put into place. Of course postally used cards with post marks are the easiest to date, but even without post marks dates can often be assigned. Post card historians have identified seven eras for the postcard industry and each one has distinguishing points to help establish its respective identity. The following may help determine the era of any card in question.

Format Masks

We note some other postcard formats that have chronological trends. We note that some postcards had geometric masks in the early-20th century. The most common mask seems to have been oval shapes. These were not studio portraits, although we also see these geomeric masks in studio portraits as well. We have just begun to assess this trend. A good example of an oval mask is two unidentified siblings in 1917.

Sources

Bussey, Lewsis. President of the United Postal Stationery Society. February 29, 2008.






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Created: October 13, 2000
Last updated: 9:19 PM 6/9/2018