LIFE RECORDED ON POST CARDS
Technology spoiled us. Now, we pick up a phone – maybe. A quick text or email is even faster and easier. Letter writing? Ha! It’s a long lost art going quickly by the wayside.
Quick and easy. But a hundred years from now, will any remnants of these communications exist to shed light on the lives we once lived?
Post cards were once a popular communication method, quicker than letters, and fairly easy to post. It was early-day texting – a quick message without taking the time to write a longer letter. With no telephones on the scene yet, people flocked to this ‘new’ way to send messages.
At the end of the fiscal year ending June 30, 1908, the U.S. Post Office records that 677,777,798 postcards were mailed. This was when the total United States population was only 88,700,000 people. That’s a lot of post cards!
Post card collecting, or deltiology, is considered to be one of the three largest collectible hobbies in the world. Coins and stamps are the other two collectibles ranking in the top three.
History can be traced from the postcards that still exist from over a hundred years ago. The photographs on the fronts of the cards record the tracks of time with real photographs and art images of people, locations, buildings, holidays and more.
The first cards were private postal cards, developed and copyrighted by John P. Charlton in 1861. They were available until 1873 when government postcards appeared. The Unites States Postal Service was the only entity allowed to print cards until May 19, 1898, when Congress passed the Private Mailing Card Act that allowed private firms to produce cards, printed ‘Private Mailing Card’.
Photograph post cards became popular around 1900. Postcards at this time were ‘Undivided Back’ cards. They didn’t have the line dividing the back of the card into two sides. Writing wasn’t permitted, by law, on the address side of the card yet. Any messages had to be written across the front over the photographs or artwork. December 24, 1901, new regulations allowed cards to be printed as ‘Post Card’ or ‘Postcard’, instead of ‘Private Mailing Card’.
Beginning March 1, 1907 revised regulations, following Europe’s lead, allowed divided backs, leaving room on the right for the address, and a space on the left for the message. The use of postcards proliferated with this new change.
Pauline Washburn, of Los Angeles and later Glendora, California, loved sending postcards. When I knew Pauline, growing up next door to her in the 60’s, she was well past her younger postcard mailing days. After her death, I received many mementos, including some of her pictures and postcards. She’d mailed the postcards to Arlie Shinkle in the early 1900’s. Relative or friend? I’m not certain. But I do enjoy looking through these periodically, seeing a slice of Pauline’s life from a hundred years ago.
Telegraph Post Card. Sent June 27, 1907:
(The divided back cards became legal in March of this year, but she used a card in the earlier undivided back style.) “I am planning on coming out week after next. May right this week. Lots of love, Pauline”
“Dear Arlie: Have you any of those penny pictures of Fern and I that we had taken last summer? If you have that one of me by myself laughing and the one of Fern and I to-gether will you send them to me? I need them right away and I haven’t any left and Fern hasn’t either. I am going to have some more taken soon and will send you some. Will explain why I wanted them next time I write. If you have them please send by return mail. All well. Love from Pauline”
Bathing Scene at Long Beach, CA. Sent August 7, 1911:
Dear girlie – I really am going to write you a letter some day soon. We are all well and the weather is perfect. Bernice went down to the beach to-day with her fellow on his motorcycle and I and my friend went out to see Les play ball and we are going to a show tonight. Hazel is in Riverside on her vacation. I am so sorry about Jake Storey. Lots of love, Pauline.” Written on the side: See if you can find me in this bunch.
“Dear Arlie: Yes, I got your letter but have been too busy to write. We have been moving but are all settled now. Have a dandy flat, 4 rooms, bath and a big sleeping porch. We can hardly wait until Aunt Ett gets here. Read tonight that Carl has gone to Turners and that Ruth is sick. Is it all off between R & C? The weather is love here. I had a letter from Elmer Ellis not long ago. Wish you could come out this winter. Why don’t you? Love to all. Pauline 539 ½ S. Flower”
Pauline is gone, not to walk this earth again in human form. But fragments of her life remain in postcards over a hundred years later, reminding us of the young lady she once was.