Glossary of Postcard Terminology

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Airbrush - A Technique which colors have been painted using air compression. Very popular with linen postcards where all undesirable elements have been airbrushed away while enhancing the scenes colors.

Albumen Print - An image printed on paper using egg albumen (the white of an egg) mixed along with whey (derived from curdled milk). The albumen and whey is boiled, filtered, and then mixed with grains of iodide potassium. These prints usually show a brown, yellow, or purple tone. Almost all albumen prints are done on very thin paper and then mounted to cardboard. This process was very common in the last half of the 19th century and was used most on cabinet cards.

Album Marks - Discoloration or heavy indentations on the corners of the cards from the acid, leaching out of the antique album pages, or from weight.

Aluminum - Cards made out of aluminum.

Antique Postcards - Although the word Antique is generally considered to mean an item over 100 years old, many collectors use the term antique postcards to describe cards of the 1893 - 1920 period, also known as the Golden Age.

Appliqué - A term sometimes used to describe a postcard with added elements such as hair, feathers, wood, beads or metal. These type of postcards are also called novelties.

Archival - Any museum quality material that will protect postcards for extended periods of time.

Artist Signed - Any card which has an artist's signature or initials. Postcards where the
publisher has identified the artist are also considered to be artist signed. The term does not mean the postcard has been autographed.

Back of Card - For most postcard collectors this will mean the address side of the postcard although some philatelic (stamp) collectors consider the back the picture side.

Bas Relief - Postcards portraits which the portrait has been raised to form a
three-dimensional effect.

Bookmarks - Postcards in a bookmark shape. Not usually over two inches wide but length has been found in various sizes.

Cabinet Card - A simple term used to describe a print, usually an albumen print that is no more than 6 inches, (unless it is an imperial cabinet card) that is mounted upon period cardboard. This was the most common way to display portraits in the 19th century.

Cachet - Information opposite the stamp area in special cards or envelopes which relates to the date the piece was mailed. First day of issue envelopes are good examples. Cachets can be printed on stickers, stamped by rubber stamps or printed directly on the postcard.

Cancellation (COF) - A card that has been postmarked and cancelled on the front.

Carte-De-Visite (CDV) - An albumen print upon a cardboard mount with dimensions no more than 5inches mostly used as a visiting card.

Celluloid - A postcard with decorative additions made from celluloid. Celluloid is a highly flammable synthetic made from nitrocellulose and camphor.

Character - Postcard condition.

Checklist - Complete listings of all the cards within a certain set, subject or publisher.
Checklists usually give the title and serial number if any, to identify the cards but also could have descriptions of the picture side.

Collodin Prints & Gelatin Silver Printing Out Print - These are two different types of processes, but the finished product looks almost identical and is very difficult to tell apart. They look similar to albumen prints, but the paper isn't quite as thin as the paper used in a albumen printing and they do not need to be mounted as do albumen prints. These two processes were used widely in the late Victorian and early Edwardian periods. This process on most cards is simply stated as a Gelatin Silver Print.

Chrome Postcards (CHR) - Any card after 1939 with a shiny paper surface. The term is derived from Kodachrome. These are modern glossy cards and are most prevalent among traders. They are the most common type of card you will find on postcard racks today. Chrome refers to a process used to make the cards. The chrome cards were first published in the 1940's and continue to be published today.

Colophon - A publishers emblem or trademark

Composite - This is a photograph with two separate images printed on the same photo paper.

Condition - Refers to the physical condition of the postcard. Terms used are Mint, Near Mint, Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, and Poor.

Crazing - These are the tiny cracks and fractures you many times see in the emulsion or the top layer of a card.

Credit Line - This term refers to the information giving the publisher's name and location, serial number or any other information which gives details about the card. Process information such as Oilette used by Tuck & Sons', Series Numbers, Titles and dates may be included in the credit line. This information is usually seen at the left edge, center or bottom of the address side.

Deckled-Edge - A jagged edge designed around the photograph, most popular from the 1930s-1950s.

Deltiology - Terminology for the study of postcards taken from the Greek word Deltion (small pictures or cards) and Logos (study) term was first used by Randall Rhodes of Ashland, Ohio. Alternate words for the study of postcards is Cartology and Cartophilist.

Die Cut - Any paper cut by the publisher into a shape other than a rectangle, such as the shape of an angel, Santa, or animal.

Die Cut Hold to Light - See Hold to Light.

Divided Back (DB) - A postcard back with a center line to divide the address from the message. Divided backs appeared in 1902 in England, 1904 in France, 1905 in Germany, and 1907 in the US. This helps to date unused postcards. Cards before these dates have undivided backs.

Double Backed - An additional layer of backing usually found on heavily embossed postcards which helped the sender in writing their message.

Edwardian - The period during which King Edward VII reigned, from 1901 until his death in 1910.

Embossed - Postcards that have designs slightly raised above the card's surface. Heavily embossed postcards have almost a papier-mâché look that stands greatly above the surface. Mainly used in greeting type cards.

Embroidered - Postcards which embroidery is added.

Emulsion - The photosensitive coating, usually of silver halide grains in a thin gelatin layer, on photographic film, paper, or glass.

Ephemera - Any printed or hand written item normally discarded after its intended use such as calendars, postcards, trade cards, tickets, and valentines.

Exaggerations - Tall tale type scenes, many include giant fruits or animals.

Face or Front - For most postcard collectors this refers to the picture side of the postcard. As in the back definition many philatelic collectors consider the front the address side.

Fake Scenery - A View card of a scene which usually has wordings such as "A Scene
Near_______" or "Greetings From_________".

Folder - Sometimes called Vacation Folders these were souvenir mailers with postcard views in an accordion pleated arrangement.

Franked - A mark or signature placed on a piece of mail to indicate the right to send it free of charge.

Foxing - Brown spots of mildew in the paper's surface that is actually a fungus. These spots of mildew, penetrating the paper, cannot be removed by erasing but may occasionally by removed by bleaching.

Gelatin Finish - A colorless or slightly yellow, transparent, brittle protein formed by boiling the specially prepared skin, bones, and connective tissue of animals. This finish leaves a shiny attractive surface although very delicate and usually seen with cracks.

Gelatin Silver Developing Out (Silver Print) - This process is still in used today. It began to be used sometime in the 1870's. It is a common and visually appealing way to print images. With age, the silver in dark areas of the print is often visible at certain light angles, especially if the photograph recto has been in contact with paper. Silver prints that have been stored face to face (emulsion touching emulsion) will often show little or no signs of silvering.

Gelatin Silver Printing Out Print & Collodin Prints - These are two different types of processes, but the finished product looks almost identical and is very difficult to tell apart. They look similar to albumen prints, but the paper isn't quite as thin as the paper used in a albumen printing and they do not need to be mounted as do albumen prints. These two processes were used widely in the late Victorian and early Edwardian periods. This process on most cards is simply stated as a Gelatin Silver Print.

Golden Age of Postcards - From 1898 to approximately 1920.

Government Postal - A postcard that has a preprinted stamp on the back. The government postal office issues these postcards and publishers use them to print designs and advertising messages. They were especially used before the Act of Congress 1898.

Greeting Cards - Most collectors refer to this term when describing birthday and holiday type postcards.

Grus Aus - German term for "Greeting from".

Hand Painted - This refers to postcards which the color has been added by hand.

Hold To Light (HTL)  - These postcards when held up to a light create a different view, such as a day view of a building to a night scene with the windows lit up. Highly popular and collectible. Hold to Light postcards are of three distinct types:

  1. Die Cut Postcards are triple layered cards on which certain parts of the topmost layer have been cut out, a middle layer with thin colored tissue paper and a bottom layer for the Address backing. When held up to a strong light, such as a lamp, the cut out portions appear brightly colored and illuminated. These cards generally highlight windows, the moon, flowers, or other small discrete cut-out areas.

  2. Transparency Postcards are more sophisticated. Also made of three or more layers, these have a "hidden design" which is usually related to the front design. Objects, characters, colors, or scenes appear magically when the postcard is held in front of a strong light. These cards are classified in four groups:
    1. Day into night scene.
    2. The color changes (usually from black and white to colors).
    3. A new image appears (which may or may not be related to the front image).
    4. A partial image appears.
  3. Slide Transparency Postcards are, as the name implies, a slide transparency sandwiched between two layers of a postcard. These are a rare type.

Installment - A series of postcards designed to be sent one a day. The completed set forms one picture. Some installments are vertical, such as an Uncle Sam figure; others form horizontal, such as a running horse.

Large Letter - This covers many time periods. Early cards usually are names while the linen period are usually locations. Example: Greetings from ___________. postcards.

Lenticular - This type of post card shows one scene than another when viewed at a different angle or moved.

Linen Postcards - Postcards of the 1930's to 1950's which have a linen embossed texture
and usually bright vibrant colors. Mechanical - Postcards that have moving parts. It may be simple as a die cut top revealing a different idea of the previous image when opened. It could be as complicated as pulling a tab for a curtain to move and totally change pictures. Some mechanicals have wheels that change the faces on a body or dates on a calendar.

Lithography - Printing process from a flat surface on which the image to be printed is ink receptive and the blank area is ink repellent.

Logo - Decorative initials or drawings which is the trademark for the publisher.

Mechanical - Postcards with moving parts.

Message-Face Postcards - A message area on the front, picture side of the postcard.
These were used during the undivided back era when the address only was allowed on the back.

Metamorphic - alteration or change. A picture made up of different pictures depending on how you look at it. Example: A face of Napoleon may be composed of nude women.

Miniature - Postcards done as a novelty during the Golden Age. They were about 1/2 the size of the standard 3 1/2 x 5 1/2 inch postcards. They have stamp boxes and were often mailed.

Mint Condition - Having no writing and not posted. These cards have a "brand new"
appearance and do not have corner or edge bumps.

Multilingual Back - A backing that has Post Card written in a variety of languages.

Name Brand Postcards - Modern Chrome postcards with a large band across the postcard announcing the name of a town, state or specified place.

Novelty - These cards include mechanicals and cards that have item attached, such as bags of salt, real hair, metal medallions, paper appliqué, silk, or even pennies. Some novelty cards are die cut shapes or have holes in which fingers can be inserted to make the postcard figures appear to have real arms, legs, or even a nose.

Oilette - A process name used by Raphael Tuck & Sons'. This name was used by the
company to describe several very different kinds of printing techniques.

Oilfasism - A term used by Raphael Tuck & Sons' for postcards that have "brush strokes" giving the postcard a oil painting look.

Over Sized - The standard postcard size during the Golden Age was 3 1/2 by 5 1/2 inches; the standard modern postcard size is 4 by 6 inches. Any card larger than these sizes is considered oversized. Modern postcards are often called continentals.

Pebbled Paper - Slightly textured embossing giving the paper an egg shell appearance.

Pennants - Popular location type card with add on pennant flag usually made of felt.

Philatelic - Hobby of stamp collecting.

Photochrom - German word for color photo this term refers to a lithographic method of converting black and white photographs into color lithographs. The Detroit Publishing Company held the exclusive North American rights to this process.

Pioneers - Postcards issued before the Act of Congress in 1898. They carry instructions on the back, such as, "Write the address only on this side - the message on the other, or Nothing but address can be placed on this side, or This side for address only".

Platinum Print - Invented in the 1870's it was used for its fine detail and soft gray tones. This process uses a combination of platinum and iron salts for printing. Many early 20th century artists' works were done using this process and is also found in photography. By the 1930's this process fell out of favor and even prints during its prime period of use are hard to find.

Poly Vinyl Chloride (PVC) - Poly Vinyl Chloride, polymers derived from vinyl chloride used to make plastic pages and sleeves. These can cause damage to postcards over time.

Post Card - Printed by private company where the stamp has to be affixed.

Postal Card - These are government issue postcards with a printed stamp. The first postal card in America was printed in 1873.

Postcard Backed - For a postcard to be considered a postcard it must have a postcard back which includes traditional features such as a stamp box, back label, divided back line or information which indicates the address area.

Postcard Blanks - Area left in the design that needs some add-on decoration which was supplied by the sender.

Postcard Stock - Material which the card is made, can include card stock, leather, wood or cloth.

Postally Used - A postcard showing a cancellation mark.

Postmarked (PM) - A card that has been postmarked.

Pre-Linen - Cards that were printed on matte or heavy paper stock through the 1930's.

Private Mailing Card - This term was required by law in the 1898 Act of Congress which
qualified these cards for the 1 cent rate. The Law was rescinded in 1901 and the new term Post Card was replaced on the back.

Publisher - Any person or company can be listed as the publisher and many local drug stores and book - news stores are listed as such. Usually the person or company who ordered the cards is considered the publisher. Some companies were also the printer and publisher.

Puzzle Postcards - These cards can include hidden pictures, jigsaw puzzles, or any card which is a puzzle to solve.

PVC - Poly Vinyl Chloride - Poly Vinyl Chloride, polymers derived from vinyl chloride used to make plastic pages and sleeves. These can cause damage to postcards over time.

Real Photo Postcard (RPPC) - A term coined to distinguish between commercially printed photographic images and an actual photograph printed on photograph paper with a preprinted postcard back. Real photo cards are more desirable than commercially printed postcards. Most real photos are one of a kind, while commercially printed photographs were produced in large quantity.

Repro - Reproductions of old and antique postcards.

Rebus - A puzzle postcard on which words, phrases, or sentences are represented by pictures of objects and signs, the names of which, when sounded in sequence afford the solution.

Recto - The front side or face of the photograph where the image appears.

Sepia - A dark brown color applied to photographs or other prints. Inky secretions of the cuttlefish produce this coloration.

Series - Groups of postcards that belong together in a collection. The individual cards may or may not have been printed at the same time. More than just a common topic, a series has a common artist and publisher.

Sets - Postcards published in a group of 4, 6, 7, 8, 12, or more. These were sold in packets or individually. Examples are: days of the week or months of the year.

Silhouette - Popular form of art deco illustrating from the 1920's and 1930's. Silhouette postcards, many times fantasy scenes show the main subject in black which gives a shadow appearance.

Silk - Postcards with silk fabric applied to the design. Silk postcards can also be entire images printed on silk than attached to a postcard backing.

Size of Postcards:

  • Standard Size - Approximately 3 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches
  • Court Size - Usually a Foreign postcard and approximately 3 1/2 x 4 1/2 inches
  • Continental Size - Approximately 4 x 6 inches, common size for modern cards.
  • Jumbo or Over Sized - Larger than Continental
  • Bookmark Cards - Long and narrow approximately 2 1/2 x 5 or 6 inches.
  • Miniature Size - Approximately 1/2 size of Standard.

Silvering - A degeneration in gelatin silver prints where the silver salts have come to the surface which is usually the result of paper contacting the emulsion.

Squeakers - Postcards that emit a sound through a small hole on the backside of the card when pressed. These are also considered novelties.

Stamp Box - Outline for stamp which is drawn on card. Many times information or date codes are printed in this area.

Text - Any message, poem, advertisement or title printed on the picture side of the postcard.

Timbre Cote Vue - A fad which placed the postage stamp on the picture side of the postcard. The term told authorities that the stamp is placed upon the view side. Sometimes these words were hand printed or applied with rubber stamps, can also be omitted.

Topics or Topicals - Themes and subjects such as Dogs, Airplanes and Flowers. Not scenes or views.

Tradecards - Advertising cards issued before 1900. Often given away in products or with the purchase of a product.

Transparency - A type of Hold to Light postcard. See Hold to Light.

Types of Postcards:

View Cards
View cards have, since postcards began, been the mainstay of the collecting field. People have long collected and traded cards of their home towns and places they have visited. View cards offer historic reference to buildings, streets, and even towns which may no longer exist or that have changed significantly over time. Even views produced in the photochrome (chrome) era may no longer look the same. The earliest cards offer much in the social history of the times as we look at early forms of travel and the beginnings of telegraph, telephone and power lines. The messages written on the cards often give us insight as to the picture shown or the sentiments of the day.

Historical Cards
Historical cards are printed to commemorate events such as war, social problems, expositions, parades, coronations, politics and so on. These cards offer much to the serious collector in the way of increased value. This is a wide open field with much to offer anyone interested in twentieth century history. Often this type of card was made of a real photograph with few copies being offered for sale. This is especially true of disaster cards depicting floods, fires, wrecks, etc. Often the historical significance of a card comes form the message written by the sender.

Greeting Cards
The greeting card is almost as basic as the view card in the earlier eras, though as the time graph has shown, its popularity declined in later era's. Christmas, Easter, Birthdays and most other holidays and special occasions were well represented and are fairly common. However some greetings such as the "Labor Day" cards, are considered scarce. Early greeting cards are some of the most beautiful cards every printed. Publishers competing for sales, printed cards using intricate embossing techniques, high caliber art work, superior inks, expensive lithographic processes and even novelty additions such as glitter, ribbons, metal, silk and feathers.

Art Cards
The art card is probably the most important category in antique postcards. Unlike the view or greeting card, most art cards were special interest cards when they were printed and in most cases brought a much higher price. This rarity, combined with the skill of the artist of this period, make these cards very popular among collectors today. To better understand this popularity, think of these cards as 3 1/2" x 5 1/2" original high quality prints, which they are, instead of just as postcards.

Photographic Cards
Coming into their own recognition as art cards are the fantastic photographic art cards. These real photo art studies of beautiful women, children, lovers, etc., are often hand tinted in great detail and in colors which almost defy description. Also made popular were the photomontage techniques which allows photos to be altered into original art creations.

Undivided Back (UDB) - A postcard back without a dividing line to separate the message from the address. Undivided backs on postcards help date the cards (see divided back).

Vernacular Photographs - Photographs taken by unknown and anonymous photographers without manipulation of the finished image whose happy accidents and successful failures resulted in surprising and tantalizing works of art.

Verso - The reverse side of the photograph.

Victorian - The period during which Queen Victoria I reigned, from 1837 until her death in 1901.

View Cards - Postcards that feature cities and places within cities, such as parks, main streets, depots, store fronts, bridges, and roads. They are not topics such as Halloween, cats, or cartoons.

Vinegar Verse - Usually found on Valentine Postcards, these curt and sometimes very hurtful messages offered an alternative to the overly sweet sentiments. Definitely not politically correct by modern standards.

Vignette - Postcard where the picture fades away into white background. Popular early style which left writing space on the picture side of the card.

Vintage Photograph - A vintage photograph is a photograph that was made around the same time as the negative was made. Example: If a picture was taken in 1903 and the image was then printed in 1903, then that photograph would be a vintage one. If the same image was printed again in 1956, instead of 1903, that photograph would not be vintage, but would be marked as "printed later."

White Border - These postcards followed the Golden Age and have a white border around the card. There are many stories about how this practice saved ink but I tend to believe it was just the "new look" for the era.

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