In the beginning, there were no postcards. Only letters.
Then, at the 1865 Austro-German Postal Conference in Karlsruhe, Germany, Dr. Heinrich von Stephen put forward the idea of an open post sheet made of stiff paper or thin card, which could be used as a cheap form of written communication. Dr Stephen’s idea was not adopted.
However, Dr. Emmanual Hermann of Vienna, a professor of economics, revived the idea of producing printed postcards in January 1869 and, on 1 October that year, the Austrian Post Office issued the world’s first postcard. As originally planned, the first cards were official – issued by the Post Office.
The special rate for inland postcards introduced on 1st October 1870 should not be confused with printed paper rate, which was cheaper. Some postcards are marked Drucksache or Imprime to obtain the reduced rate. If more than five words of greeting or message were written on the card, though it incurred the letter rate and was charged the extra to be collected as a due. The postcard was a great popular success and about 2¼ million were sold in the first three months.
Other postal authorities in Europe followed the Austro-German example. On 26th May 1870, the British Postmaster-General recommended the production of Correspondence Cards and, on 1 October 1870, the first official postcards in Britain were issued by the Post Office.
In his Report for the year to 30 June 1884, the US Postmaster-General recorded that 362,876,750 postal cards had been issued with a value of $3,629,640. In his estimates for the year ending June 1886, the Third Assistant Postmaster-General (who had responsibility for such matters) sought a budget of $239,000 for the manufacture of 439,080,867, anticipating increases of ten percent a year. By this time, the Post Office had a Postal-Card Agency and budgeted $7,300 to pay the agent and his assistants to distribute cards.
The early British postcards were printed by De La Rue and incorporated a printed stamp. The officially-produced post card carried a pre-paid stamp to the value of ½d, a new postal rate for open correspondence. The postal rate for letters in a sealed envelope remained at one penny. At half the standard postal rate, the post card was immediately popular and 675,000 were sold on the first day of issue1.
These cards were very small – 4¾ by 3 inches. This was called the court size. “POST CARD THE ADDRESS ONLY TO BE WRITTEN ON THIS SIDE” appears on the reverse side without a picture. Written messages were restricted to the front side, with the entire back dedicated to the address. This undivided back is what gives this postcard era its name.
The first such postcards in France appeared on 15 January 1873 under the law of 20 December 1872.
Quite often in the Directory, I refer to the divided-back era. The following chronology charts the change to allow a message to share the address side in the manner that still exist today. Between 1902 and 1907 various countries permitted divided backs. The words in quotations are taken from actual cards.
Divided Back Chronology
The standard size of postal cards was established as 3½”by 5½”.
UK permitted private cards; George Stewart in Edinburgh published the first pictorial cards.
US Congress passed the Private Mailing Card Act, allowing private publishers and printers to produce postcards.
Postcards were a worldwide phenomenon. Switzerland led the way with 22 Millions annually in circulation – the highest proportion per person. Next were Belgium (12 million), the Netherlands (12 million), Germany (88 million), Austria-Hungary (31 million), Italy (27 million), UK (14 million), Turkey (2 million), Spain 4 million and finally France, which only had 0.2 cards per the head which was, nevertheless 8 million a year2.
More information on Spain: Colección de fotografía antigua
UK Post Office Regulations were changed to allow divided backs from January 1902. Other countries followed suit and in 1907 the Universal Postal Union allowed divided backs in all member countries. The “divided back” card, with space for a message on the address side, came into use. The back is divided into two sections, the left section being used for the message and the right for the address3.
“Write here for Inland Postage only”
“THIS SPACE MAY BE USED FOR COMMUNICATION IN THE BRITISH ISLES ONLY (Post Office Regulations)”
“IF SENT ABROAD, THIS SPACE MAY ONLY BE USED FOR NAME AND ADDRESS OF SENDER”
Byatt4 casts doubt on when in fact publishers actually first issued such cards. Cards postally used in 1902 are certainly a rarity.
- December 1: France5 Algeria Tunisia
“This space may be used for communication in the British Isles or to France at Postcard rate.”6
“A utiliser seulement dans le service interieur. (France, Algerie, Tunisie.)”
- December 18, 1903: Canada7.
“THIS SPACE FOR INLAND COLONIAL AND CERTAIN FOREIGN CORRESPONDENCE”
“For Inland Postage, U.S. France, Switzerland, Great Britain, Italy this space may be used for communication.
This Card: Nunraw is an estate in East Lothian, Scotland. The current baronial mansion at Nunraw was built in 1860 in a castellated deep red sandstone. In the early 1880s the house was bought by Walter Wingate-Grey who was born in 1856 and spent most of his life there. He installed much oak panelling, and also made the painted room into a chapel. Wingate Gray married his first wife in 1888 and became a much respected member of the East Lothian society. He was a loyal Free Church member, and no doubt partly the reason why the Free Church congregation was just able to sustain a minister. He repaired the old weavers’ building on his land just below the Papana Bridge and handed it over as a Sunday School room. He and his daughter taught the children there over many years. This card would have been published about 1903 and sent to her on a trip to Canada. After the death of his first wife in a riding accident Wingate-Grey married again in 1926. A nephew of his second wife recalled visiting his aunt as a small boy in the 1920s. He remembered having to dress for dinner in his kilt and black jacket, and then being sent off to bed with a guttering candle up the dark stairs and corridors, lined with suits of armour and Crusaders’ weapons. There was a nine-hole golf course around the house. On Sundays they all went to church in the chauffeur-driven Landaulette with monograms on the doors, but the Laird’s pew was in the United Free Church. When he died in 1931 Wingate-Grey was buried in Nunraw’s small private cemetery on the left, part way up the hill by the main entrance where he had raised a memorial to his first wife.
- New Zealand
“This space may be used for Commonwealth11 and New Zealand Correspondence only.”
“THIS SPACE MAY BE USED FOR CORRESPONDANCE IN Britain, The Colonies and British Possessions: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Egypt, France, Germany, Holland, Hungary, Italy, Luxemburg, Mexico, Norway, Portugal, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland & Tunis”
“This half for correspondence inland and to the chief Foreign Countries except Greece, Japan, Servia, Turkey”
“This space may now be used for Communication to all countries except United States, Spain and Japan”
“This space may be used for communication in N.Z. or the British Empire.”
- March 1, 1907: USA20.
- March 28, 1907: Japan21.
- 1 October 1907: 1906 Rome UPU Congress came into force22.
“This half for correspondence Inland and to the chief Foreign Countries except Japan”
Ebay seller spinach-eater has identified the following US postcard eras:
- Government Postal Card
- Pioneer (1893-1898)
- Private Mailing Card (typically 1898-1901)
- Undivided Back (1901-1907)
- Divided Back (1907-1915)
- White Border (1915-1930)
- Linen (1930-1945)
- Chrome (1939-Present day)
During the undivided-back era M Rieder of Los Angeles created a space to the left of the address with the wording:
“In space below may be written sender’s name and address (No other writing)”
while Paul C. Koeber Co of New York went one further:
“In space below may be written sender’s name and address (No other writing and communications after March 1st, 1907.)
Hervé Gournay offers the following classifications in France:
- Les pionnières : avant 1903
- L’âge d’or : 1903/1914
- Les cartes semi-modernes : 1914/1975
- Les cartes modernes et contemporaines : à partir de 1975
4Picture Postcards and their Publishers Anthony Byatt 1978 Golden Age Postcard Books pages 20 & 21
11 ie Commonwealth of Australia (Constitution of Australia 9 July 1900).
15 43 million postcards were sent in Sweden in 1903-04. http://stamps.org/userfiles/file/articles_distinction/SCC_2014.pdf