Deltiology 101



Click on images for a larger image

These first three images are collections
of selected publishers' colophons.


Randall Rhoades of Ashland, Ohio, coined a word in the early 1930’s that became the accepted description of the study of picture postcards.  ‘Deltiology’, taken from the Greek word, deltion, meaning a small picture or card and logos, meaning a science or knowledge, is now used widely as the one word to cover the vast area of postcard study.  A ‘deltiophile’ is a collector of picture postcards and ‘deltiography’ is the making of postcards.  A ‘deltiologist’ is one who is interested in the history of the postcard and helps to add to the information concerning the subject. 

Within the past few decades deltiology has become one of the fastest growing collecting hobbies in England and America.  The cards collected and studied include the earliest issued by the postal services of both countries to the most absurd comic cards of the first part of the 20th century.  The hobby is approaching the proportions of coin and stamp collecting to which it is somewhat related.

There is a category of interest to almost every deltiologist.  Early transportation, communication, subjects of geographic interest, work of a particular publisher or artist, illustrations of children, toys and dolls, religious, patriotic or political subjects, American Indians, Scottish tartans, performing arts; the list of categories is almost inexhaustible.  A lot was happening in the world of art and science at the close of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th.  It’s all recorded on the small printed cards that were sold by the millions when they were new.

Picture postcards, those of the period between 1880 and 1918, were originally published to appeal to collectors and were manufactured as collectors’ items when they were new.  Therefore, there is a great deal of early literature concerning what was made, who the artists were who designed them and less about the publishers who issued them.  These collectors’ newsletters and magazines, published at the beginning of the 20th century when postcard collecting was the most popular hobby in England and America, are now eagerly sought for the information they can offer to today’s collectors.  There are many newsletters that have been published in both countries that attempt to serve a similar purpose for the modern collectors of old picture postcards.

While many of the earliest have already reached the established category of ‘antiques’ and are over 100 years old, many other later cards are just as desirable to collectors for a variety of reasons although they have some time to go before they can be considered bona fide antiques.  However, on the category of collectible paper objects age is not as important in establishing value as are some other criteria.


A few interesting postmarks

















A Rapahel Tuck "Oilette"


The Birth of Postcards

Long before the arrival of the first picture postcards a vogue had been set for pictorial printing. In the eighteenth century, charmingly decorated visiting cards were exchanged, beautifully embossed and embellished writing paper appeared, ornately adorned bills were proffered by tradesmen, and a great variety of trade cards were distributed by the astute business houses of the day.

But like most of the inventive ideas of that age, pictorial print was intended only for those who could indulge a fancy for whatever novelty was devised to please and tempt them. The fads and fashions of the rich and privileged were not only beyond the scope of the pockets of ordinary people, but usually of little appeal to their tastes. Visiting cards, plain, embossed, or with engraved pictures were small conceits reserved for those who considered formal introductions to be strictly social necessities. And while intricately embellished stationery provided a pleasing background for elegant handwriting, it was of no interest to the majority of people who were unable to read -let alone write.

This state of illiteracy was generally taken for granted until the institution of the Factory Act in 1802 compelled the owners of new factories to arrange for children to be taught the 'three R's'. So by the time Sir Rowland Hill had freed his scheme for a penny postage rate from the fetters of Post Office red tape in January 1840 a new generation of ordinary men and women were able to take advantage of the innovation of writing and posting letters to their relatives and friends.

The first day of issue of the new penny postage duty was on 1 May 1840, the day when the British public saw for the first time the new envelopes designed for the purpose by William Mulready. A design which was ferociously criticized for its fussy incorporation of too much symbolic detail. Even so, despite the public derision of this first envelope, which represented the first pre-paid penny postage rate, it could be genuinely considered to be a forerunner of the picture postcard.

After the establishment of the revolutionary penny post, it took no time at all for the commercial potential of pictorial print to be seen by Victorian publishers. Fine engravings of country houses, cozy scenes of domestic bliss, views of pastoral serenity, and an abundance of robust seaside humor complete with sly or bawdy captions soon began to emerge on writing paper and envelopes. Greetings cards for all conventionally happy occasions were introduced in a great variety of shapes and sizes. But the days were still far off when the simplicity of the picture postcard was to capture the imagination of the world -although many ideas for such a device had been considered, lengthily discussed, and finally dismissed as impractical.

The first creator of the idea of a postal card was Heinrich von Stephan, of the German Empire. His idea, put forth in 1865, was that a simple card should be printed on which a brief message could be written and which could be mailed without an envelope. At the same time Dr. Emmanuel Hermann of the Military Academy of Wiener-Neustadt had a similar idea. Both proposals were independent of one another and there is no evidence that either knew the other was going to enter his proposal at one of two sittings of the General Postal Conference held at Karlsruhe in 1865.  And it was not until October 1869 when Dr Emmanuel Herrman succeeded in persuading the Austrian Postal Authority to accept his invention of the first Official post- cards.

An act of Congress on 19 May 1898 gave the right to private publishers to publish cards that could be mailed for the same rate as the government cards, and these were to be inscribed, 'Private Mailing Card - Authorized by Act of Congress, May 19, 1898'.  What postcard collectors mean by a "pioneer" card is one that was published, but not necessarily mailed, before this Act of Congress.  This act put many postcard manufacturers into business and the collecting of their products as a hobby became almost immediately popular in the United States.

The Paris Exhibition of 1882 popularized the picture postcard in France and the Royal Naval Exhibition in London in 1891 was advertised on postcards that were sold on the top of the Eddystone Lighthouse replica that was built for that event. As with the French postcards that were sold at the top of the new Eiffel Tower in 1882, these could be purchased, written on and mailed at the top of the tower.

For the next quarter-century deltiology became a widespread hobby that was extremely lucrative for artists, photographers, printers and publishers.

The first country to sanction divided back postcards, on which one side was used for the address, message and the stamp and the entire opposite side of the card could be reserved for a picture, was France. On 18 November 1903, the French Minister of Commerce, Industry, Posts and Telegraph authorized the use of illustrated cards on which the address side was divided into two sections, the left side for a message and the right for the address and stamp. The Universal Postal Union authorized the use of divided address cards shortly afterwards.


Scanned from "Collecting 
Postcards in Colour"

Social Satire of the Day

One certain indicator that a social phenomenon has reached epidemic proportions is the existence of topical humor in the popular press. A 1906 joke in the Columbus Dispatch on the subject of arctic exploration, for example, poses the question, "I wonder what will be the first thing they sight at the North Pole?" The reply: "Why, Eskimos selling souvenir post cards, of course." The following year, in the Woman's Home Companion, a woman asks, "Has this house all the modern improvements?" The answer: "Everything, here's a special closet for post cards."

American Magazine in March 1906 featured an amusing commentary on the collecting rage by John Walker Harrington. Titled "Postal Carditis and Some Allied Manias," the piece makes a number of cogent points in a lightly satiric vein:

Postal carditis and allied collecting manias are working havoc among the inhabitants of the United States. The germs of these maladies, brought to this country in the baggage of tourists and immigrants, escaped quarantine regulations, and were propagated with amazing rapidity. A few of the pathogenic variety which had for decades been dormant have been by these foreign infections called again into activity and the result is a formidable epidemic. There is now no hamlet so remote, which has not succumbed to the ravages of the microbe postale universelle. . .. Unless such manifestations are checked, millions of persons of now normal lives and irreproachable habits will become victims of faddy degeneration of the brain.

The onset of these insidious diseases is often sudden, although there are basic weaknesses in human nature, which make even enlightened races susceptible to attack. There is in all mankind a predisposition to gather ill-considered trifles, an incipient mania for cherishing the useless…..

By far the worst development of the prevailing pests is postal carditis, which affects the heart, paralyzes the reasoning faculties and abnormally increases the nerve. It had its origin in Germany twenty years ago, but did not assume dangerous proportions there until 1897. Sporadic cases of it were observed in the United States and the year 1900 saw the malady rapidly spread from one center of infection to another. It seems only yesterday that the postal cards were on view almost entirely at hotels which were patronized exclusively by foreigners or in little dingy shops in Third Avenue, or on the remote East side.

It often happens that collectors ... have not enough friends to increase their hoards in a normal manner. Hundreds of them haunt establishments where the causes of their besetting sin are exposed for sale, select such as strike their fancy, stamp them and mail them to their own addresses….

These monstrosities are often bestowed on the center table in the parlor, and about the only thing that can be said in their defense is that they crowd off the plush thesaurus of family celebrities.... When the crisis in the disease is reached the victims have been known to decorate all the available surface of their living apartments except the ceilings….

Even more biting was a poem, "Tirade a la Carte" by Katharine Perry published in the December 1907 issue of Putnam's:

This is to objurgate that infesting modern microbe,
The picture postal,-
Whether in simple black and white, or in colors stirring the-fire-alarm,-
Variously representing danseuse, -Alpine scenery, smug-faced acquaintance,
Paintings from the old masters, or Brooklyn Bridge,-
Amusing, doubtless, to the postman,
And precious to the asinine collector,
Assembling them in fat and fancy albums,
To be pitilessly inflicted on the squirming casual caller,-
But to those who look for veritable communication, a mockery
A flippant
grin in place of real interchange of thought.

Think you that the Brownings, Robert and Elizabeth,
Had they lived at the present day
Would have written those letters, passionate, prolonged,
Laden with love, glittering with Greek,
Riotous with references culled from the classics,
Crowded with casuistry and laments for the languorous lost lap-dog?-
Nay,-but a picture-postal of Thames Embankment would say-very squeezed as to writing-

"Dear E. -Finished 'Sordello'. Done -up. Can't come until Monday. Aff’ly, Robert.
Her reply, in the lee of a hotel at Margate, scalloped with sea-foam,-
"That's tough, Bobby love,-but till death I'm y'rs,-Liza. "

  Hark! As I write, a sinister knock interrupts me,-
Seven of the highly-colored, hotly-hated horrors are left at my door,
From Warsaw, Oshkosh, Tokio, Hoboken, Mt. Blanc, Ceylon, and Quogue, L.I.
Yet when last seen, their senders seemed sane and kind.
The scalding tear of outraged friendship spatters on their luridities.
Thank Heaven, I have an open fire!


Identifying Postcard Age

The dating of postcards for year or era of issue can be accurately determined if the card is studied for identity points. Earlier historians have already done research and guidelines have been put into place. There were seven different eras and each has distinguishing points to help establish its respective identity. The following helps determine the era of cards in question: 


Original rate of 2 cents was stamped
 over with a one cent postal rate

PIONEER ERA (1893-1898)

The Pioneer Era began when picture postcards were placed on sale by vendors and exhibitors at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, May 1893. These were very popular and proved to be a great success. The profitable and lasting future of the postcard was greatly enhanced. These cards are relatively scarce. They can be identified by combinations of the following:

- All have undivided backs.
- None show the "Authorized by Act of Congress' byline.
- Postal cards will have the Grant or Jefferson head stamp.
- Most, but not all, will be multiple view cards.
- The words 'Souvenir of..." or 'Greetings from..." will appear on many.
- Postage rate, if listed, is 2 cents.
- The most common titles will be 'Souvenir Card' or 'Mail Card."
- Appeared mostly in the big Eastern cities.


On May 19, 1898, the government gave private printers permission to print and sell postcards. The cards were all issued with the inscription 'Private Mailing Card," and today they are referred to as PMC'S. It is very easy to identify these because of the inscription. Many of the early Pioneer views were reprinted as Private Mailing Cards.



On December 24, 1901, permission was given to use the wording 'Post Card' on backs of privately printed cards. All cards during this era had undivided backs and only the address was to appear on the back. The message, therefore, had to be written on the front (picture side) of the card. For this reason, there is writing on the face of many cards; this is becoming more acceptable on cards of this era.

DIVIDED BACK ERA (1907-1915)

This era came into being on March 1, 1907. The divided back made it possible for both the address and message to be on the back of the card. This prevented the face of the card from being written on and proved to be a boon for collectors. Normally, the colors or images filled the entire card with no white border.


WHITE BORDER ERA (1915-1930)

The so-called White Border Era brought an end to the postcard "golden age" era. It ended with the start of the First World War when imports from Germany ceased and U.S. publishers began printing postcards to fill the void. They were very poor quality and many were reprints of earlier Divided Back Era cards, which are easily distinguished by the white border around the image.


LINEN ERA (1930-1945)

Improvements in American printing technology brought improved card quality. Publishers began using a linen-like paper containing a high rag content but, in most instances, used very cheap inks. Until recently, these cards were considered very cheap by collectors. Now they are very popular with collectors of Roadside America, Blacks, Comics, and Advertising.


PHOTOCHROME ERA (1939 to present day)

Modem Chromes," as they are now called, were first introduced in 1939. Publishers, such as Mike Roberts, Dexter Press, Curt Teich, and Plastichrome, began producing cards that had very beautiful chrome colors and were very appealing to collectors. The growth of this group has been spectacular in recent years, so much so that there are now many postcard dealers who specialize only in chromes.


REAL PHOTO POSTCARDS (1900 to present day)

Real Photo cards were in use as early as 1900 and it is often difficult to date them unless postmarked or dated by a photographer. The stamp box will usually show the printing process; e.g., A7,0, EKC, KODAK., VELOX, and KRUXO. (See Process Dating Table at the end of 'Real Photos.') Careful study of photo cards is essential to make sure they have not been reproduced.

ART DECO ERA (1910 to early 1930's)

Beautiful Colors! Beautiful strong, deep, vibrant Colors! This wording only partially describes the new Art Deco movement that began around 1910- just as the Art Nouveau era was ebbing-and continued into the early 1930's. Due to the great influx of Art Deco postcards to the U.S., there has been a great demand for them in recent years as more and more American collectors discover their beauty.


ART NOUVEAU (1898-1910)

Art Nouveau postcards had their beginning at the turn of the century in Europe. Primarily, the movement began in Paris-where the great poster artists congregated-and in Vienna. This new expression of decorative art was the rage of the era, and the posters and magazines such as 'Jugend,' 'Simplicissimus,' 'Le Rire,' 'Le Plume,' and 'The Poster,' were used as a means to transmit this expression to the art lovers of the world.


Animals on Postcards

If children were depicted as chickens and rabbits on Easter greeting cards there were many more animals on picture postcards that were shown in human poses. Many postcard publishers could have prophesied the popularity of Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and other Walt Disney animal characters. Their issues of frogs, mice, chickens, cats, dogs, pigs and other forms of animal life were highly successful as postcard art. The animals, as in the Disney cartoons, were usually dressed in human clothing and many of them are shown engaging in human activities. Singing frogs, dressed in striped and polka-dotted shorts, must have amused many children who received these cards and cute mice in various situations of peril to life and limb most certainly prophesy the success of the Disney studios.

Dog lovers have thousands of picture postcards with their favorite subjects from which to choose. Many of the dog subject postcards were copies of paintings of the various breeds and were issued in sets for placement in albums. The paintings of dogs shown in noble poses were extremely popular.

Photographic poses of dogs were also items that enjoyed immense popularity. Frequently the poor animals were dressed in blouses, hats, collars and ties and photographed in poses that presupposed their human qualities. The miracle, of course, was that the photographers were able to get the animals to sit for their portraits in uncomfortable restrictive clothing and un-doglike attitudes. Probably many of the dogs used for these cards were the animals that worked in vaudeville and music halls during the period preceding World War I.

There were no laws to protect children from long sittings at photographers at the time, much less animals, and if the results were amusing and attractive the cards made from these pictures would sell by the thousands.


Art Reproduction Cards

 It has been suggested that browsing through a collection of reproductions of the famous paintings of old masters is rather like wandering round a 'poor man's art gallery' - if ever there was such a thing! Just the same, when these postcards were first issued, they cost much more to buy than most other cards. Those published by the continental galleries, such as the Musees du Louvre, Luxembourg, Marseilles, and the Paris Salon were beyond the price range of the 'poor men' of the day.




Advertising Postcards

Advertising postcards are still issued today to promote the sales of products and services, but in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries additional functions were served as well: the postcard was used to announce the coming visit of a "drummer", or sales representative, to serve as an order form between retailer and distributor, and to acknowledge the receipt of an order. Many of the early advertising "postcards" are really United States postal stationery issues on which the advertiser had imprinted his message, often with a description or picture of his product as well. Consequently, when a date is absent on these early postals, the approximate date of issue may be determined from the type of government back.

A detailed listing of known advertisements on government postals is included in Jefferson Burdick's Pioneer Postcard; nine types of government stationery postals had appeared by 1898, and advertising imprints are known for each type. Generally done in black-and-white line drawings, these early ad cards often feature the manufacturer's trademark or slogan, a picture of the product, a view of the factory or store, or, in some cases, a cartoon.

Artist Signed

Many of the picture postcards that come under specialty headings were signed by the artists who designed them. That is, the original painting, etching or drawing was signed. When these postcard artists have an easily recognizable style that made their work popular when it was originally done and their signatures are clearly visible, the postcards that they designed are eagerly sought by today's collectors. Signed cards, particularly those of certain artists who worked in the area of book illustration and postcard design at the beginning of the 20th century or were otherwise well known in the field of commercial or fine art, are the cream of any deltiologist's collection and the field is one in which the most serious research has been done. However, the field is so vast that there is certainly room for more research and information concerning the favorite artist-designed cards. The situation is further complicated by the fact that many obviously capable artists will always remain anonymous or will be known only by their initials.

Many of the artists who worked for postcard publishers signed only their initials or used a pseudonym rather than have their professional names known among their fellow artists. For many, the postcard work was only a means of making enough money to support the painter in his pursuit of the finer arts. It is interesting that a great many of those artists who attempted to remain anonymous in the area of postcard design by using pseudonyms, initials or no signature at all might have faded into oblivion were it not for the pictures they made for the postcard publishers. The craze for the enormous variety and amount of postcards at the beginning of the 20th century made it possible for many artists who might otherwise have starved to make a rather decent living helping to supply this demand for an almost unlimited number of designs.


Children on Postcards

Artists who were capable of painting children in charming poses were in high demand as postcard illustrators. Many of the artists who became well known as specialists in drawing and painting juvenile subjects were highly successful and were popular during the first picture postcard collecting boom. These same cards are even more desirable now. The cards of Mabel Lucie Atwell, Kate Greenaway, Ellen H. Clapsaddle, Jennie Harbour, Florence Hardy, Mortimer Menpes and many others are extremely popular with modern collectors and prices for some of the cards by these artists have soared in the past few decades.

Rose O'Neill cards illustrated with her famous Kewpies are highly collectible today. Many of these are Christmas greeting cards and depict the Kewpies in a variety of holiday scenes.

Children became the subjects of many advertising cards and many became trademarks of their companies. Especially attractive children were photographed in rather saccharine poses. For these photographed cards, curly hair was always a must and there were obviously more blonde models in demand than brunettes. Cards thought to be somewhat naughty for the time show the child model sitting on the potty or in the bath and thousands of tykes must have caught colds as photographers had them posing without clothing in many situations. Poses that would have been degrading and far from amusing, had the subjects been adults, were considered all right if the models were chubby young nude or semi-nude children. Often the titles under these pictures had double meanings.



A typical joke of a popular stand-up comedian is the one-liner, 'Take my wife ... Please!' Unfortunately, this is the caliber of humor of many of the comic postcards that were extremely popular at the turn of the 20th century. Not only wives, but also mothers- in-law, sons-in-law, the hen-pecked husband, old maids and various ethnic groups such as blacks and Orientals were the brunt of the thousands of comic cards published during the first period of postcard collecting. Minor subjects were the Suffragette movement (the women retaliated with propaganda cards of their own); facial hair on men. ('How to get used to a moustache: Dip a hairbrush in brilliantine and rub gently on the lips'.) The drunk and drinking were subjects that were covered fully by the British humorists.


Disasters, Natural Phenomena

Human fascination with disasters and natural phenomena is a fact that was recorded in great quantity and detail on picture postcards. Any disastrous event was a reason for cameramen to rush to the scene and record it, not only for local newspapers, but as a sure sale to the postcard publishers. Among the popular disasters were fires, unusually destructive storms or floods, shipwrecks, airplane or dirigible accidents, earthquakes and even trolley accidents.

Destruction by fire seemed to hold a special fascination for disaster collectors and not only fire scenes, themselves, but the brave men who fought the fires and the complicated and flashy equipment they used were duly recorded in action on picture postcards of the early twentieth century.  

One can trace the development and improvement of fire-fighting equipment from the steam fire engines drawn by horses of the late 1800s to the gasoline-powered pumpers of the early 1900s.



The postcards era- the years between the Spanish-American War and World War I -marked the coming of age of America and was characterized by an exuberance of spirit probably without parallel in our national history. The carefully planned and elaborately staged exposition was by no means unique to this period, but the number of expositions held certainly reflects a heightened sense of regional and national pride and the absence of preoccupation with war or other compelling social problems. The industrial revolution, which had begun several decades earlier, was now evident in the lives of average citizens, and the enormous potential of electricity heralded an age of unbounded progress. County and state fairs capitalized on interest in agricultural progress, so a number of larger cities sought expressions of civic pride and industrial success through expositions, all of which were enormously costly and were planned, by no means coincidentally, to commemorate local historical events.

The first postcards printed to be sold as souvenirs of a United States exposition were those for the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. These are the first picture postcards in the United States. Prior to the Columbian, however, there had been a number of industrial exhibitions in the United States for which postcards are known. These cards are printed on government postals and are advertisements rather than souvenirs. Presumably the cards were mailed to potential exhibitors and buyers who might be interested in attending. Such cards are extremely rare and command correspondingly high prices.


Greeting Postcards

Just like today, greetings cards appeared in all shapes and sizes and in the widest possible variety. The early German cards are considered to be the most desirable. These were usually embossed and very often heavily gilded, and, of course, there were cards to celebrate every occasion. But one of the most popular themes today are the New Year cards showing little gnomes showering gold coins around as if they grew on trees!

Apart from the modern trend of producing folded greetings cards, the illustrations and subject matter have changed very little. The only real difference between today's folded offerings and the greetings postcards of yesterday is that postcards are collectable since they can be stored away in albums, while the folded types usually end up in a waste-paper basket after they have served their purpose! This is a pity, for many of the designs on modern greetings cards are so good they ought to be preserved.


Of Ladies, Love and Leisure

Picture postcards of the early part of the twentieth century not only give us an idea of what the world looked like at the time, but also a rather clear picture of people, social customs and costume which underwent great changes following Victoria's restrictive reign. We can follow the handholding courtship of a couple on postcards evidently taken from drawings that had been used in Scribner’s Magazine around the beginning of the century. The woman is never without her large ornate picture hat and the couples never seem to progress further than handholding during the courtship.

Female models in large picture hats, popular at the turn of the century, were the subjects of many brightly colored picture postcards. The artist, Philip Boileau, was noted for his winsome, demure ladies in large fashionable headgear. Courtship and marriage were treated mainly in traditional Victorian fashion on the earlier cards and the man and woman are seldom touching. As the twentieth century moved on a bit, women's clothing became less constrictive and the postcard subjects became somewhat less restricted if they portrayed couples in love. Captions became more suggestive and couples not only held hands but they kissed and 'spooned' on the parlor sofa. Suggestive 'tunnel of love' scenes as well as photographs or drawings of couples in isolated places flirting or kissing were thought to be somewhat daring for the time. Many actors and actresses found needed work posing for these photographs.


Novelty Cards

In their constant zeal to increase sales and to outwit the competition, postcard manufacturers issued a wide variety of novelty items. All were intended to be sent through the mails, although, for the protection of letter carriers and mail processing equipment, the Post Office Department in 1907 required that most novelty cards be mailed in envelopes or protective boxes. Every conceivable material was utilized. Cards were made of leather, wood, metal, and even Japanese bamboo, Irish peat moss, and thin sheets of simulated ivory. All sorts of items were attached to the face of the cards: feathers, buttons, sequins, real hair, metal objects, coins, and pieces of cloth. Cards were designed to be manipulated to produce kaleidoscopic effects, to be folded out into other shapes, and to be combined with other cards to produce a large composite design. Hold-to-the-light and transparency cards ranged from views to greetings and exhibit the most expert craftsmanship of all early cards.


Patriotic Postcards

At the beginning of this century the American market for picture postcards of a patriotic nature was quickly assessed by British and German manufacturers and a great many cards were printed in those countries for sale to Americans overseas. Some rather lovely and interesting series were made by Tuck and were probably never seen by the avid British collectors. Tuck issued series of 'American Presidents' and 'Homes of the Presidents'. Both of these were very popular and many albums with the entire series have been found in the United States by the new wave of collectors.

American patriotism also provided an extra bonanza for postcard manufacturers in the field of greeting cards. National holidays such as Washington's and Lincoln's birthdays, Independence Day (the 4th of July), Memorial Day, and Thanksgiving were all indigenous to the United States and manufacturers abroad answered the need for postcards to be sent out on all those holidays.   More interesting to American historian-collectors than the greeting cards made for national holidays and the series made to appeal to American patriotic sentiments, are the cards made for presidential campaigns. The postcard was discovered to be a cheap and effective means of communicating party preferences during the few elections held during the postcard-collecting craze and many candidates took advantage of this fact.

During the period when picture postcards first became popular, Queen Victoria was in her dotage and manufacturers looked for any excuse to tie the craze for collecting to her Majesty by making claims that the Queen did, indeed, collect albums full of picture postcards. In this manner the British publishers hoped to give the hobby at least unofficial endorsement of Royal patronage. There seems to be no evidence that Victoria, incurable collector of many other objects, gave album space to the little colorful cards that had become such an important part of everyone's daily mail.

The history of the popularity of picture postcard collecting in Great Britain coincides almost totally with the Edwardian period. Edward VII's reign, between the years 1901 and 1910, is rather completely documented on picture postcards. Portraits of many of the King's relatives as well as events of the decade are all colorfully recorded for us and there is, perhaps, no better social, political, scientific or artistic documentation of the Edwardian period than that to be found on an assortment of British picture postcards.


Political and Social

The decade between 1904 and 1914-during which postcard collecting caught the national eye, reached a zenith of staggering proportions, then declined with almost the suddenness that had marked its beginning-was in many ways unique in American history. To a large extent, any decade in this century can be labeled "unique," for ten years is a long time when measured by the recent pace of life. However, the temper of this particular decade reflects certain characteristics that set it apart from the preceding-or following-decades. The recent victorious war with Spain had left the United States with an ebullient self-image as a formidable military power, and world war had not yet brought its lessons of sacrifice and widespread loss. With the assassination of President McKinley in September 1901, the presidency was assumed by the youngest man in American history, and Teddy Roosevelt at forty-two captured the public imagination in a manner that only John Kennedy was to rival. The nation then was truly "'the great melting pot" with a third of the total population foreign-born or the children of foreign-born. In the large cities the ethnic minorities were still unassimilated and these pockets clung stubbornly to their old-world traditions. Blacks, Jews-and women-were the butt of much humor and satire, as were Germans, Orientals, and spinsters to a lesser extent. The automobile had made its appearance, but few city streets and almost no highways between cities had been paved. Transportation was largely horse-drawn and by trolley in town, and by train between cities. The industrialization of America had begun in earnest and jobs were available at wages quite consistent with the cost of living. The pervading mood was one of optimism: America had come of age and a young man could quickly climb the ladder to a comfortable life by dint of his wits, diligent labor, and a bit of luck.

The picture postcard thoroughly and relentlessly captured the era in a manner that reveals a better portrait of this age than of most others. The nature of the population, the burgeoning industrialism, the products available to the consumer-all are dutifully recorded, as are the national sentiments, pastimes, and tastes. The political climate and figures of the time and the suffrage and prohibition movements are fully documented. Architectural styles, costume design, modes of transportation, can be fully examined from a perspective of seventy years. The energy, the optimism, and the determination to succeed are all there. The postcard is, indeed, a folk document.

Religious postcards

People who lived in the Edwardian age were a much more God- fearing lot than most people today. While the majority of the religious cards embraced Christianity-sets of 'The Lord's Prayer', 'The Ten Commandments', and the 'Stations of the Cross' being the firmest favorites to collect-there were also cards published which took into account the needs of other faiths.

But many of the religious cards publicized the activities of the various missionary societies, the portraits of clergymen, and the work of the Salvation Army. Roman Catholicism was also heavily featured with pictures of Popes, views of Lourdes and other places where miracles could be expected to take place. Exteriors and interiors of churches, cathedrals, and synagogues were photographed ad infinitum from every distance and from every angle, so prolifically produced were these particular post- cards it might be wondered whether any other type of building ever existed.


Royalty postcards

The main interest in collecting Royalty postcards is centered around portraits of not only the British Royal family but the foreign royals as well, and the most keenly sought are those showing members of the Russian Royal family -especially informal photographs where glimpses of the infamous Rasputin is likely to be seen.

Raphael Tuck & Sons published many of the most desirable sets of Royalty themes, their 'Empire' series being one of the most delightful. Then there were sets to celebrate the coronations of Edward VII, and later George V; sets devoted completely to individual members of the British Royal family; and sets entitled 'The Belgian Royal House', and 'Unser Kronprinz'.  


Be quite sure, wherever there is a ball to be seen being lobbed, kicked, thrown, or hit, there will be photographers breathlessly waiting to snap the dramas of whatever game is being played.  Baseball teams, football games, cricket matches, tennis tournaments, and golf competitions, each and every one had their fair share of the limelight focused on postcards. Athletics, boxing, swimming, rowing, wrestling, gymnastics, bullfighting, mountaineering, hunting, fishing, and shooting, did not do so badly either. The stars of every sport were photographed both in close-up and in action; football, rugby, and cricket grounds (and their pavilions) were photographed with monotonous regularity -so were tennis courts, golf links, boxing rings, and gymnasiums.


The end of the nineteenth century was an exciting period in the history of transportation and the postcard publishers did not avoid their responsibility in recording every new invention that would carry man into the air, provide luxury on the sea or get him from one place to another on any number of wheels.  If one did manage to get his machine in the air and later crashed, that disastrous event caused the postcard publishers to go to press with a photograph since the market for cards showing disasters has always been great.

The period of luxurious ocean liner travel is also recorded on picture postcards. Many of the successful publishers reproduced paintings of ships. One series that is sought by collectors today was painted by Fred W. Leighton and is entitled 'Code Signals'. The signal flags flying above the ships are really messages such as 'all well' or 'shall I come?' that might be pertinent to someone sending a postcard message. Tuck also issued a series of ship paintings called 'Celebrated Liners'. All ships belonging to Great Britain were used as subjects for postcards and ships of many other countries were duly recorded in the same manner.

The horseless carriage was another means of transportation that came into its own during the postcard collecting craze.  The first commercially successful gasoline powered automobiles that were built in the United States were two-cylinder cars built by Charles E. and J. Frank Duryea of Massachusetts.  In 1896 their company produced thirteen cars from the same plans and that same year Hansom E. Olds and Henry Ford built their first cars. Many others were to follow soon and the automobile was here to stay ... and to have its development recorded on picture postcards.

Train buffs will find a wealth of railroad history on picture postcards. Especially in the United States, where railroad transportation is rapidly deteriorating, postcard collectors search for pictures of now defunct lines and engines that were at one time the only dependable mode of coast-to-coast transportation. If America had spent an entire century building a remarkable network of railroads, the postcard manufacturers spent almost twenty years recording it.

Other modes of transportation, from balloons to bicycles, trolleys, buses, and even pack animals can all be found as subjects of old picture postcards. Since most of these cards are actual photographs they present a rather accurate record of how people got from one place to another at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the next.

View Cards

Certainly the majority of cards published in the United States during the postcard era were view cards. Early view cards are collected today in many ways: hometown views, by publisher (particularly Detroit, Mitchell, and Rotograph), or according to topic. Among those sought most eagerly are main streets or other busy street scenes, trolley cars or horse-drawn transportation, early fire engines and fire stations, railroad stations and trains, covered bridges and canals, and views with literary or historical interest. The first numbered card of any publisher is considered very desirable by collectors. View cards, finally, hold the literal portrait of the era.

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Mashburn, J.L., The postcard guide: a comprehensive reference / J.L. Mashburn. – 4th ed., Colonial House, 2001

Ryan, Dorothy B., Picture Postcards in the United States 1893-1918, Clarkson N. Potter, 1982

Duval William, with Monahan, Valerie, Collecting Postcards in Colour, Blandford Press, 1978

Klamkin, Marian, Picture Postcards, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1974