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A History Of The Postcard

By Author: Robert Wiley
Total Articles: 4777

Early postcards were inspired by envelopes with printed images, and personal cards that were privately printed from woodcuts or lithographs. The private postal card first appeared in Philadelphia in 1861, patented by John P. Carlton, and later sold to H.L. Lipman. The Lipman cards were on the market until 1873, when the first U.S. government produced postcards appeared. Individual countries in Europe had postcards prior to the Lipman card. These cards, called "postals," were plain cards with the country's stamp pre-printed on them.

The first of the "non-postals" arrived in 1869 in Austria, and required postage to be attached by the sender. By 1870, postcards were no longer plain and became quite similar to greeting cards. They included artistic renderings of wildlife, flowers, cities and other sites visited, and were an easy way for family and friends to send greetings.

Postcards have continued to be common way of sending greetings along with images of places visited; however, very early in their history, they also became a common means of marketing. In 1872, the first advertisement was sent via postcard in England.

The first postcards were somewhat different in appearance from those with which we are familiar today. Postal regulations in Europe and the United States prevented postcards from having advertising or printed material on both sides of the card. No writing was allowed to appear on the address side of the card and there was no "divided back" to these cards, as we are familiar with in present-day postcards.

Early U.S. regulations limited postal cards to U.S. government issuance, with the government being the only one allowed to print and distribute these cards for use. These early postals had U.S. postage pre-printed on the card, as did the early cards in Europe.

Changes in postal regulations in Europe and the U.S. allowed postcards to boom in usage for personal correspondence and for business marketing messages. These changes occurred in 1898 in the U.S., and included the discontinuance of the prohibition on non-government printed cards. Private mailing cards could be produced by anyone, provided they included the printed statement "Private Mailing Card, Authorized by Act of Congress on May 19, 1898."

These private postal cards could be mailed for one cent, which was the same postage rate as the official U.S. postcards. The postal rate change further encouraged the use of postcards as a means of communicating personal and business messages. However, writing continued to only be allowed on the non-address side of the card, meaning the sender was required to write over the top of the image or printing that appeared on the front side of the postcard.

In 1901, Congress discontinued the lengthy statement on Private Mailing Cards, and for the first time allowed private printers to include the term "postcard" on these privately produced cards. In the early 1900s, countries in Europe began allowing private printers to incorporate divided backs in the printing of postcards, permitting senders to write on the back of these cards for the first time ever. The U.S. government followed suite in 1907, making the postcard more similar in appearance to modern postcards for the first time in their history.

The removal of the "Act of Congress" statement and the inclusion of the divided back to postcards freed a great deal of usable space on postcards, making them more easily used by private senders and by businesses seeking methods of advertising. These changes made the postcard a financially feasible means of sending both private messages and marketing materials on a larger scale than ever before, rushing in what has come to be known as the "Golden Age" of the postcard, with millions of cards being sold and used worldwide in the first two decades of the 20th century.

With the introduction of the divided back, beautiful cards from around the world could be fully appreciated by all who received them, with the front side images left undisturbed and undisrupted by the writing of the sender. Resulting from the incorporation of the divided back to these cards, millions around the world began to collect postcards, prizing the images they included as much the private messages contained on the backside of the cards.

The invention of the telephone eventually spelled the end of the golden age of the postcard, when travelers were able to more quickly keep in touch with family and friends at home, no longer needing to utilize postal service to do so. However, the end of the golden age did not mean the end of the postcard, and these cards continued to be used, only in smaller numbers, for the sending of personal messages.

Today, postcards continue to be a means for friends and family to send greetings while on vacation, or when visiting locals on business trips. The personal postcard has been relegated to a more seldom treat received in the mail while the boom of postcards for marketing purposes has become the norm. Today's businesses take advantage of the less expensive and more friendly style the postcard provides for sending marketing materials to current and potential customers.
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