History of the Postcard

1873 - 1898 Era
The United States Postal Service began issuing pre-stamped postal cards in 1873 as a quick and easy way to send short notes. Only the USPS was allowed to print postcards.

Private Mailing Cards Era, 1898 - 1901:
On 19 May 1898 Congress passed the Private Mailing Card Act which allowed private publishers and printers to produce postcards. Additionally the act changed the rate from a 2¢ letter rate to a 1¢ "private mailing card" rate. The required words "Private Mailing Card" and the statements "Authorized by Act of Congress of May 19, 1898" and "This side is exclusively for the Address" differentiated the privately printed cards from the USPS cards. Messages could only be written on the front of the card. Cards with the term "Postal Card - Carte Postale" were allowed to enter the international mail system.

era private mailing card era private mailing card back


Post Card Era, 1901-1907:
In December 1901, the United States Post Office issued Post Office Order No. 1447. This allowed the use of the words "Post Card" instead of the longer Postal Mailing Card. Messages were still not allowed on the back of cards. This era is also called the Undivided Back Period.

Era-Post Card Era-Post Card back


Post Real Photo Era, circa 1900 -:
Real photo cards where produced from a negative in black and white or sepia tones on film stock paper. Many postcard collectors consider real photo postcards more collectible than lithographic cards for their unaltered presentation.

Real Photo
Real Photo Back


Divided Back Era, 1907-1914:
On 1 March 1907 a major change on the backs of postcards occurred. The left side of the back of the card allowed messages, while the right side was for the address. This allowed for the image on the front of the postcard to fill the entire space.

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White Border Era, 1915-1930:
Up until this period German companies had been the predominate postcard printers. The beginning of World War I caused a shift to postcards supplied by printers in the United States. Ink was saved by not printing to the edge of the card and leaving a white border around the image. It became the fashon to have a more complete desciption of the postcard included on the back.

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Linen Era, 1930-1944:
New printing processes were developed that allowed postcards to be printed on paper with a high rag content. This gave the postcards a look of being printed on cloth or linen. The colors used became brighter and more vibrant. Most postcards retained the white border, but some were printed to the edge of the card.

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Modern Photochrome-style Era, 1939 - to date:
Modern Photochrome-style postcards first appeared in 1939 with the Union Oil Company carrying them in their western service stations. Production of the postcards was slowed during World War II because of supply shortages. The photochrome postcards are in color and are the closest to real photographs.

crome era crome era back