Although there were earlier scattered issues, most pioneer cards in today's collections begin with cards placed on sale at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois in 1893. In 1898, an act of Congress allowed private printers to print and sell cards know as "Private Mailing Cards." They required a one-cent stamp and messages were not permitted on the address side. The use of the term "POST CARD" was granted by the government in 1901, and private citizens began using not only printed views, but having their black & white photographs printed on postcard backs.
The use of postcards exploded in the early 1900s. They were the "e-mail" of their day. Cards included advertising, artwork, and documentation of current events, and places. Postcard collecting became a major hobby, and nearly every household in the United States had an album or box of postcards. The "golden age" of postcards was from 1900 to the start of WW I. In 1907, over 577 million postcards were mailed, at a time when the US population was only 88 million. This number does not include the huge quantities of cards that were collected but never mailed.
COLLECTING, BUYING AND SELLING POSTCARDS
Postcards document our history in a very personal way, with images and hand written stories of our lives. They also document our art, technology, social history and travels. Collectors approach the hobby from many directions including, artwork and artists, publishers, historical events, photographs of people and places, images of their home town, and so on. At a postcard show you will find thousands of cards, all sorted and filed by category. Even if you are not a "collector" you can find much of interest as you browse hundreds of topics.
Many cards are fairly common and are bought, sold and traded at very inexpensive prices. Other cards are rarer, or particularly attractive from an artistic or historical perspective, and can command high prices. Postcard collecting is a hobby that offers enjoyment, education, and if carefully selected, a collection that might appreciate in value.
So, even if you are not a postcard collector, come by a show, and I'll bet you will be entertained for a few hours looking at postcards, photographs, advertising, or books that attract your attention. There is definitely something there for everyone.
If you want more information, there is probably a postcard club near you, and there is a lot of information on the Internet. Here are a few sites that might be helpful:
One important category of postcards is "Real Photo" postcards. Real
Photo cards are exactly that -- they are printed on photographic paper
with a photographic process, rather than printed from a photo
or other image. Real photos were produced commercially to be sold, but
many are one-of-a-kind photographs taken by families or individuals and
printed by the developer on postcard backs. That allowed the family to
easily send images of themselves or their activities to friends and
family. Real photo postcard with image of unusual topics, old main
street views, circus images, or occupations, for example, are highly
sought after as important documents of history and art.
Here are two links about Albertype Postcards, one of my favorite postcard publishers:
The Albertype Company, owned by Herman L. Wittemann, published souvenir books, pamphlets, and postcards from 1890 to 1952, using a process invented by Austrian photographer Joseph Albert (1825-1886). The process using a collotype coating on glass plates permitted high speed mass production of photographs for the first time. Albertype photos also have an advantage that although the paper may yellow, the inks, unlike normal photographs, do not fade. The company would have photographs taken by its own agents and would also arrange to utilize photographs taken by others. Thus, Albertype postcards provide a valuable documentation of scenes that no longer exist.
The Albertype Co. 1887-1952 205 (260) Adams Street, Brooklyn, NY
A important printer and publisher since 1887 that utilized the albertype process. They first started printing books and then pioneer cards by 1893 going on to become a major publisher of national view-cards. Their postcards were not numbered and their name appears within the stamp box on their early cards. When the divided back postcard was authorized, the Albertype company created a line down the back of their cards with the words Post Cards of Quality and later with The Finest American Made View Post Cards. Many publishers large and small printed cards though the Albertype Co. They were purchased by Art Vue Post Card Company in 1952.
Many of their cards were printed in black & white but they also produced a tremendous number of hand colored cards. The style and quality of the way the watercolor paint was applied changed over the years but their RGB pallet remained consistent. One variation of these cards were printed as novelties in a 6 by 8 inch format.
They also printed postcards in duotones and tinted monochromes of various colors. An early type was their Sepia Delft series printed in dark high contrast tones. This was followed years later by their Blue Tone cards that were similar to their lower contrast black & white albertypes except for their color.
While most of Albertype’s postcards were based on photographs they also produced an unusual set of sepia art reproductions of line drawings.