" In this life we cannot do
Great things. We can only do small things with great love."

Mother Teresa

Monday, January 26, 2009

Postcard History

My fascination with postcards continues.

I find that aspects of memory, art and relationship are all present in the act of collecting postcards. I hope to present a brief postcard history here in order to highlight the rich background we all share in communication through words and imagery.


Most postcards up until 1898 are "Undivided Back" cards meaning they do not have the line going down the center of the card. Writing was not permitted by law on the address side on any postcard until March 1, 1907. Any messages were written across the front over the photographs or artwork on the card.


Around 1906 Eastman Kodak started making an affordable camera called the "Folding Pocket Camera". The public was now able to take black and white photographs and have them printed right onto postcard backs. The negatives were the same size of the postcard and the photographer had a small metal tool that allowed them to write directly onto the image. It is said that the publishing of printed postcards during this time period doubled every six months.

DIVIDED BACK ERA (1907-1915)

The divided back postcard made it possible for both the address and the

message to be on the back of the card leaving the front of the cards untouched showing only the beautiful artwork

or photography. The images filled the entire card with no white border.

WHITE BORDER ERA (1915-1930)

The White Border Era brought an end to the postcard craze. The golden age ended as imports from Germany ceased and publishers in the U.S. began printing postcards to try to fill the void. The cards were very poor quality. They are easily distinguished by the white border around the pictured area. The higher costs of post war (WW1) publishing combined with the inexperience of making cards brought down the quality significantly. To save on the price of ink, "white borders" were left around the postcards.


The exception to the decline was the "Hand Tinted" postcards being produced in France and Belgium. These were photo postcards with various topics which were colored by hand giving them a realistic color look. Many were true works of art. Unfortunately these cards did not last long. The process of hand tinted card was very labor intensive and unhealthy! Mostly women artists sat in rows while the postcards were passed down "assembly line" style. Each woman was responsible for a particular color. The cards were small, the artwork detailed. Women would wet the tip of their brush, usually cotton covered, with their lips as they worked. Soon the lead in the paint took its toll as women became sick. Hand tinted postcards soon were discontinued.

Going to the movies became the new "visual" experience. The telephone quickly replaced the postcard as a way to keep in touch and thus was the end of the "Golden Age" of postcards.


A new type of postcard, the color "Photochrome" appeared in 1939. "Chrome" postcards started to take over the marketplace immediately after they were launched by the Union Oil Company. Sold in their western service stations, they were easily produced, were of high photo quality and of most importance, they were in true living color!

These cards were the first cards to catch my eye as they reminded me so much of my own family's car vacations. I first started working with postcards to add a new dimension to my Drive By series and later became interested in their ability to communicate both visually and orally important aspects of our every day life.

I believe that it is the small things that we do everyday, either at home or on a trip, that remind us that we are of value and have something to say.

Next Traveling Postcards event:

February 4th JFK University Campbell Campus

February 10th STAND community, Contra Costa County