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  • Writer's pictureFlea Market Love Letters

The History & Future of the Postcard.

In Spring of 2021 the Postal Museum in the U.K. held a fantastic online event with Postcard from the Past, an archive of vintage postcards. As part of this event Tom the founder of Postcard from the Past talked about the history of the souvenir postcard, explored a few examples from the archive, and fundamentally reignited my spark for the vintage postcard. Let's take a quick look at the introduction of the postcard, a few notes on its popularity in the 19th and 20th Century, and some examples from the archive!

An Origin Story

Most sources indicate that the first commercially produced postcard was actually made in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1861 by a John P. Charlton. Charlton secured a patent for the "private postal card" which he then sold to Hymen Lipman. Lipman decorated the borders of the otherwise plain cardstock -- yes, there was a time when the message went on one side and the address the other, leaving no room for the decoration postcards are so famous for today! -- and these became known as "Lipman Postal Cards".

Postcards had been exchanged before 1861, with some sources indicating at least in the U.S. their use in the 1840s. In the 19th Century and well into the 20th postcards were a popular and cheap choice for military communications. After World War I -- and with the advent of the telephone -- the 'demand' so to say for Postcards dipped. The 1910s are considered the "Golden Age" of Postcards. Before WWI Postcards were called "a poor man's telephone" and afterwards they became more of the souvenir you might know them for today.

In 1939 "Photochrom" was introduced meaning that color could be added cheaply and there was no turning back. The highly stylized, colored and now glossy photographic Postcards of the 21st Century are recognizable as cousins to the original 1800s Postcards.

From the Archive

Now let's take a look at some of the wonderful vintage Postcards that have come into the Flea Market Love Letters Archive since we began in 2017. These Postcards -- all three sent to Ohio from wonderful locales around the world -- were generously gifted to us by the Found Photos Instagram account "Foundoldpics". How lucky are we that Micki thought of us when they saw these at a local thrift shop? Goosebumps!

First we'll travel to Paris together. How fabulous is this gem from 1971? From the fashion, to the cars, to the funky colors this Postcard screams "retro". The note to Mr. & Mrs. Johnson back in Ohio reads:

"We have been driving all over Europe for 3 weeks ending in Paris. We have visited so many Cathedrals of rare beauty and grandeur but felt that the Notre Dame here in Paris surpasses them all for its serene and majestic atmosphere of peace.

We have had wonderful weather except for those cold days in Vienna. Several places we visited before and enjoyed them more the second time. We'll see you soon. Love, Lucile & Gwynne"

Next we're time and location hopping! This Postcard was sent to Ohio from Switzerland in 1966. I don't know about you but this Postcard is quite literally what one might conjure when they think of a "Postcard Perfect" Switzerland.

This card reads:

"After a full fight is Lisbon + a couple of days in beautiful Madrid we arrived in our favorite spot in Switzerland. We have cancelled some of our trip in Yugoslavia in order to spend a few more days in this quaint village of Brienz. Yesterday we drove to Newchatil and today we are going to Interlaken for Chief to attend Ratay. Best Wishes to everyone, Vic"

Who doesn't love Switzerland enough they don't ever want to leave? Flea Market Love Letters visited in February 2020 (you can read about that mission to return to popular sites with photos from a series of 1920s letters, here). Now from the snowy Swiss alps to sunny Mexico.

Unfortunately we've no postmark to go by on this beauty. We can tell by the left hand that this card was from Monterrey city in Mexico. The note to Grandpa and Grandma, reads:

"Hello Strangers -- We are on our second honeymoon & we are having a ball. We have visited so many places. I even rode a horse and it didn't die -- we should see you in about 5 days. All our love, Joe - Linda Christa & Joey"

A Second Act?

However, with the advent of Social Media and email fewer and fewer folks are sending Postcards. That's not to say that the Postcard is obsolete or at risk of extinction totally. Thanks to organizations like Postcrossing or more recently, Penpalooza.

The Postcard exchange service Postcrossing began in 2005. In 2017 the service shared that 5.5 million Postcards had been registered through their service in that year alone. And better yet? In 2021 Postcrossing celebrated 60 million Postcards sent! While in the 2010s the future of the Postcard was dimming with some venerated publishers and printers closing their doors for good. Yet, as with anything nostalgic there is a culture and a group of individuals preserving the medium and for that we're thankful.

Get in Touch.

Something here strike your interest? Have a letter story you'd like to share? Write to us at today!

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