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A postcard or post card is typically a rectangular piece of thick paper or thin cardboard intended for writing and mailing without an envelope and at a lower rate than a letter.

The study and collecting of postcards is termed deltiology.

In the art world the postcard can also be translated into an art object. The art form is called mail art.


Brief history of postcards in the United States

John P. Charlton of Philadelphia patented the postcard in 1861, selling the rights to H. L. Lipman, whose postcards, complete with a decorated border, were labeled "Lipman's postal card." Nine years later European countries were also producing postcards.

The United States Postal Service began issuing pre-stamped postal cards in 1873. The postal cards came about because the public was looking for an easier way to send quick notes. The USPS was the only establishment allowed to print postcards, and it held its monopoly until May 19, 1898, when Congress passed the Private Mailing Card Act which allowed private publishers and printers to produce postcards.

Initially, the United States government prohibited private companies from calling their cards “postcards,” so they were known as “souvenir cards.” Although, in 1901, this prohibition was rescinded, not until 1908 could people write on the address side of a postcard.

The first postcard in the United States was created in 1893 to advertise the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Shortly thereafter the United States government, via the United States Postal Service, allowed printers to publish a 1-cent postcard (the "Penny Postcard"). A correspondent's writing was allowed only on the front side of these cards.

Postcards, in the form of government postal cards and privately printed souvenir cards, became very popular as a result of the Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago in 1893, after postcards featuring buildings were distributed at the fair. In 1908, more than 677 million postcards were mailed.

1901 brought cards with the word "Post Card" printed on the reverse (the side without the picture). Written messages were still 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 "divided back" card, with space for a message on the address side, came into use in the United States in 1907. The back is divided into two sections, the left section being used for the message and the right for the address. Thus began the Golden Age of American postcards, which lasted until about 1915, when World War I blocked the import of the fine German-printed cards.

The "white border" era, named for obvious reasons, lasted from about 1916 to 1930. The "linen card" era lasted from about 1931 to the early 1950's, when cards were primarily printed on papers with a textured surface similar to linen cloth. The last and current postcard era, which began about 1939, is the "chrome" era, however these didn't begin to dominate until about 1950. The images on these cards are generally based on colored photographs, and are readily identified by the glossy appearance given by the paper's coating.

In France, erotic postcards appeared in 1910.

In 1973 the British Post Office introduced a new type of card, PHQ Cards, these have since become a popular collecting area, especially when they have the appropriate stamp affixed and a First day of issue postmark obtained.

British seaside postcards

See seaside postcards, which explores the early 1930s, cartoon-style saucy postcards of bawdy nature, making use of innuendo and double entendres and traditionally featured stereotypical characters such as vicars, large ladies and put-upon husbands, in the same vein as the Carry On films.

Early Controversy

The initial appearance of picture postcards (and the enthusiasm with which the new medium was embraced) raised some legal issues that can be seen as precursors to later controversies over the internet. Picture postcards allowed and encouraged many individuals to send images across national borders, and the legal availability of a postcard image in one country did not guarantee that the card would be considered "proper" in the destination country, or in the intermediate countries that the card would have to pass through. Some countries might refuse to handle postcards containing sexual references (in seaside postcards) or images of full or partial nudity (for instance, in images of classical statuary or paintings).

In response to this new phenomenon, the Ottoman Empire banned the sale or importation of some materials relating to the Prophet Mohammed in 1900. Affected postcards that were successfully sent through the OE before this date (and are postmarked accordingly) have a high rarity value and are considered valuable by collectors.

Glossary of postcard terms

Applique - A term used to describe a postcard which has some form of cloth, metal or other embelishment attached to it.
Art Deco - Artistic style of the 1920s, recognisable by its symmetrical designs and straight lines.
Art Nouveau - Artistic style of the turn of the century, characterised by flowing lines and flowery symbols, yet often depicting impressionist more than representational art.
Bas Relief - Postcards with a heavily raised surface, giving a papier-mache appearance.
Composites - A number of individual cards, that when placed together in a group, form a larger picture.
Court Cards - The official size for British postcards between 1894-1899, measuring 115mm x 89mm.
Divided Back - Postcards with a back divided into two sections, one for the message, the other for the address. British cards were first divided in 1902 and American cards in 1907.
Early - A term loosely used to describe any card issued before the Divided Back was introduced.
Embossed - Postcards with a raised surface.
Hold-to-Light- Also referred to as 'HTL', postcards often of a night time scene with cut out areas to show the light.
Intermediate Size - The link between Court Cards and Standard Size, measuring 130mm x 80mm.
Kaleodoscopes - Postcards with a rotating wheel that reveals a myriad of colours when turned.
Midget Postcards - Novelty cards of the size 90mm x 70mm.
Novelty - Any postcard which deviates in any way from the norm. Cards which do something, or have articles attached to them, or are printed in an unusual size or on strange materials. An example is cards made of leather
Oilette - A trade name used by Raphael Tuck to describe postcards reproduced from original paintings.
Real Photographic - Abbreviated to 'RP'. Used to describe postcards produced by a photographic rather than a printing process.
Reward Cards - Cards that were given away to school children for good work.
Standard Size - Introduced in Britain in November 1899, measuring 140mm x 89mm.
Topographical - A term used to describe postcards showing street scenes and general views.
Undivided Back - Describes postcards with a plain back where all of this space was used for the address. This is a term often used to describe Early cards, although undivided were still in common use up until 1907.
Vignette - Usually found on undivided back cards, consisting of a design which does not occupy the whole of the picture side. Vignettes may be anything from a small sketch in one corner of the card, to a design cover three quarters of the card. The purpose is to leave some space for the message to be written, as the entire reverse of the card could only be used for the address.
Write-Away - Used to describe a card with the opening line of a sentence, which the sender would then complete. Often found on early comic cards.

Further reading

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Postcard" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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