A Newsletter of the White River Valley Museum

January 2001



Early Postcards
"A Penny For Your Thoughts"

by Dr. Tina Brewster Wray, Curator of Collections

 


Easter Postcard, 1912
Easter Postcard, 1912
Color lithograph in purple, green and yellow. Printed in Germany.

The White River Valley Museum has
about 700 postcards in its collection.
They range in date from 1894 to the 1970s,
but most are from the peak period of
postcard popularity, 1907-1915.


Postcards began to be widely used in the United States soon after governmental restrictions on the private publishing of postcards were lifted in 1898. In the following years, the demand for postcards grew rapidly. The official figures from the U.S. Post Office for the fiscal year ending in June 1908 cite almost 680 million postcards mailed (to put this in perspective, the total population of the U.S. was 89 million). In the years before telephones were common, postcards were a fast reliable and inexpensive means of keeping in touch (postcard postage was only 1 cent).


Valentine Day's Postcard, 1910
Valentine's Day Postcard, 1910
Color lithograph. Lavender background with red hearts and pink flowers.
Printed in Germany.


Several different styles of postcards were produced during the "golden age" of postcard publishing and collecting, which lasted from 1898 until 1915. Most of the printed postcards were lithographs, and the majority of these were printed in Germany, the world leader in this process. In addition, around 1900, photographic postcards began to filter into use. These increased in pupularity after 1906, when Eastman-Kodak brought out the affordable "Folding Pocket Kodak" camera. This allowed the public to take black and white photographs and have them printed directly onto paper with postcard backs. There was also a change in the backs of postcards during this time period. Prior to March 1907, writing anything but the address on the back of a postcard was not permitted. After this date, the more familiar "divided back" postcards were allowed, which have a space for the message on the left side, and address on the right.


Fourth of July Postcard, 1909
Fourth of July Postcard, 1909
Color lithograph in red, blue, white & gold.
Printed in Germany.


With the advent of WWI, the craze for postcards diminished rapidly. The supply of German postcards came to an end, and although U.S. and English publishers continued to print postcards, they were of lesser quality. Although postcards continued to be published and collected, then never again reached the level of popularity they had before the war.

The White River Valley Museum has about 700 postcards in its collection. They range in date from 1894 to the 1970s, but most are from the peak period of postcard popularity, 1907-1915. The postcards featured here come from a collection of 115 postcards from the estate of Pauline Franzen, and were collected by here mother-in-law, Helen Taborsky Franzen.

Dr. Tina Brewster Wray