The Historical Significance Postcards

The use of postcards dates all the way back to May 1898 when Congress passed an act allowing for private print companies to create postcards but at the time, they were known as “private mailing cards”. Previous to this designation, the primary cards being mailed at the time were government-produced postcards mainly used for government correspondence. However after the passing of the “Private Mailing Card, Authorized by Act of Congress of May 19, 1898”, the private sending of postcards became more common. In those early days, messages could not be inscribed on the address side of the card and most of these private mailing cards did not have an image on the front side.


As of December of 1901, the Postmaster-General designated the official name “postcard” instead of “private mailing cards” to these cards. The front side of the card began featuring an image during this time but the rule regarding no text on the address side of the postcards remained. This period in the evolution of the postcard was known as the “Undivided Back Period”.

Between the years 1907-1915, the postcard underwent another transition known as the “Divided Back Period”. As of October 1907, the Universal Postal Congress decreed that “postal cards produced by governments of member nations could have messages on the left half of the address side” of the card. As of March 1907, privately produced postcards could now also bear written or printed messages on the left half of the card’s backside. During this time period, “real photo” postcards rose in popularity; the first being produced by Kodak.


Following the “Divided Back Period” came the “White Border Period” during 1915-1930. In the early days of postcard production, Germany dominated the market but by the beginning of WWI, American printers began supplying a majority of postcards to the United States. During this time, in an effort to save money, these printers began leaving a white border around the image, which led to this period of time becoming known as the “White Border Period”.


The next evolution of postcards would come during the “Linen Period” during the 1930-1945 when printers began to produce them on high rag content which gave the illusion of being printed on linen. Of the popular printers of the time, a company known as Curt Teich & Co became popular for printing the first linen cards in 1931. During this time, the backside of the card started to include information regarding the image on the front.


By the “Photochrom Period”, which began in 1945, postcards started to make an appearance in service stations. During WWII, supply shortages caused a decline in the production of postcards but after the war ended, postcards experienced a surge in production. At this time the use of photochrom postcards, which include a color photo or image on the front, became the precedent for what most consider to be a postcard in present time. 

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