Today, I’m sharing a snippet of postcard history from my ebook, Dear Arlie: Postcards to a Friend (1907-1913). Vintage postcards are such fun. I could spend a fortune on those in the antique stores I visit.
Postcards aren’t as old as the postal service, but they’ve still been around for a long time.
The earliest known postcard was mailed in London, in 1840. In the US, the first postcard was one that had advertising on it, postmarked December 1848.
Prior to 1898, the Post Office was the only entity allowed to print postcards. The Private Mailing Card Act, which Congress passed on May 19, 1898, allowed private companies to produce cards. They couldn’t be called ‘postcards’, they had to be called ‘souvenir cards’ or ‘Private Mailing Cards’. This changed on December 24, 1901, when legislation allowed private companies to use the word ‘postcard’.
These early cards did not have the divided back that we all recognize today. The back was for the postage and the mailing address only. Any correspondence had to be written on the front of the card. This changed on March 1, 1907, when the Post Office relaxed its regulations and allowed citizens to write on the address side of a postcard.
The earliest card in this set from Pauline to Arlie, is one of the ‘undivided back’ cards. Although it was mailed three months after the regulations changed (postmarked June 27, 1907), it was still mailed in the old manner of having correspondence on the front of the card and only the addressee on the back.
Once the postcards had divided backs, they quickly gained in popularity, peaking in 1910 and dying down by 1915 when World War I interrupted the importation of German printed cards. In 1908, more than 677 million postcards were mailed. A good many of these now reside in various antique stores around the nation, laying in baskets and bins, waiting for someone to admire them and take a few home.
Postcards are still popular, mostly for the souvenir aspect. We take a vacation and send friends and family little mementos of our travels. Now, between telephones, email and texting cell phones, the day to day information we need to convey to one another goes a little quicker than the good old days method of dropping a penny postcard in the mail.