Postcard Era History

PIONEER ERA (1873-1898) Postal cards issued by the American Postal Service and pre-stamped 1˘ began in 1873. Picture postcards were sold at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in May 1893 for the first time commercially. Undivided back, usually a multiple view card and commonly called a "Souvenir Card" or "Mail Card".

PRIVATE MAILING CARD (1901-1907) Government gives private printers the OK to print and sell postcards but required the term "Private Mailing Card" to be included on the card. Now referred to as PMCs, they also had an undivided back.

UNDIVIDED BACK ERA (1901-1907) The government gave permission on 24 Dec 1901 to use the wording "Post Card" on the back of privately printed cards. Cards still had an undivided back which was to be used for the address only so most used cards of this era had writing on the front.

DIVIDED BACK ERA (1907-1915) This was considered the Golden Age of postcards. On 1 March 1907 the divided back era began and both the message and address were allowed on the back for the first time in the United States. Most cards had images that filled the front of the card without any border.

WHITE BORDER ERA (1915-1930) As World War I began, German publishers were unavailable. U.S. publishers printed most postcards and the quality significantly decreased. Most of these postcards have a white border.

LINEN ERA (1930-1945) Publishers began using linen paper with a high rag content that you can see and feel but usually used cheap inks.

PHOTOCHROME ERA (1939-PRESENT) Modern chromes have great chrome colors and a very slick finish that look much like a glossy color photo. Can also be in a matt finish.

REAL PHOTOS (1900-PRESENT) Real photos are highly sought after now after being ignored for many years by collectors. Dating them is difficult and not an exact science. While postmarks can give you a "not newer than" date the best method for determining the approximate age is often the stamp box on the address side. Often, the stamp box will contain the name of the company that produced the photo paper of the postcard.

1873: Pre-stamped postal cards issued by the American Postal Service.

1898, May 19: private publishers and printers allowed to produce postcards. Senders had to attach a 1˘ stamp. Manufacturers required to print the words “Private Mailing Card” on the back of the card. Changing design features can help approximate dating of these cards Messages were not allowed on the address side (the back) of the Private Mailing Card, so some small blank area was often left on the front/picture side for writing short messages. Further information printed on the back of the card included “Authorized by Act of Congress of May 19, 1898”, “This side is exclusively for the Address” and often “Postal Card - Carte Postale”, indicating the card might be sent abroad.

1901: The labeling on the back of the postcard changed from “Private Mailing Card” to “Post Card”. Messages were still not allowed on the back with the message. The back was undivided by a line.

1907, March 1: The back was divided by a vertical line and messages were allowed in the smaller left area, while the address was put on the right. The blank area on the front for messages was no longer included.

1915: To save ink, US printers left a white border around the picture on the front of the postcard. The back of the card was divided more evenly, making the message area bigger. More description of the photograph was included on the postcard back.

1930 - 1944: Because of improved printing processes, brightly colored images were printed on postcards made with a high rag content. The resulting postcards looked as if they were printed on linen cloth. The white border often remained, but there were also Linen Period postcards with no white border.

1939: The Union Oil Company started carrying photochrome-style postcards in their western service stations. The postcard images are close to real photographs. The quantity produced slowed during WWII. This type is postcard is still produced today.


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