The practice of sending small cards with short notes in the mail has been a part of communication for centuries. However, images were not part of what we now call "postcards" until the mid-1800s.1 By the late 1800s, a "postcard craze" gripped Europe, and it was slowly but steadily making its way through the United States. Overwhelmed by the burden of producing postcards, particularly those with images, Congress passed the Private Mailing Card Act in 1898, allowing private organizations to print their own postcards that could be mailed at the government rate.2
By 1907, the United States had entered a "golden age" of postcards. The middle class was growing, and printing technology was improving. With disposable income in the hands of the middle class, and with better technology in the hands of postcards publishers, the postcard industry boomed. The "golden age" of postcards saw the introduction of the divided back card, with one side of the back for a message and the other for a destination address.
Though the "golden age" of postcards ended around 1915 in the United States, they continued to be popular among the middle and upper classes.3 This exhibit showcases a very small selection of postcards that followed on the heels of the "golden age," from 1920 to about 1950. Specifically, the exhibit focuses on a few postcard prodution methods that were popular in the United States during this time. "Production" can encompass many different aspects of the manufacturing process, but in this exhibit, "production" refers to the printing method (particularly the application of color), the postcard material, and the border style of the postcard. In exploring these various aspects of production, the exhibit will also address the role of Curt Teich & Co., one of the most prominent postcard publishers in America.
Explore the exhibit through the navigation menu on the right.
- The first known picture postcard to be mailed was that to Theodore Hook in Fulham, London, in 1840. BBC News, "Oldest postcard sells for £31,750," March 8, 2002, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/1862284.stm (accessed August 27, 2018).
- Prior to 1898, private organizations could still print their own postcards, but they were more expensive for companies or individuals to mail. Government-produced cards, though not as aesthetically appealing, were cheaper to mail.
- Historians agree that the outbreak of World War I was the major driving factor in ending the "golden age" of postcards. For one, it shifted the public's focus to more serious matters, but it also cut off American publishers' access to superior printing technology in Germany. The quality of postcards fell, contributing to the end of the "golden age."