Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Postcards and Real Photo Postcards

Postcards were first sold at the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago on May 1, 1893. The cards were issued by the government or were privately printed as souvenirs of the exposition. The government card came with a pre-printed one cent stamp, and the souvenir card required an adhesive two cent stamp. By law, neither card permitted a written message on the back--only an address. Five years later, private printers were allowed to sell postcards as long as they carried the words "Private Mailing Card". These could be mailed for one cent, but messages were still not permitted.

Charles Armstrong's postcard to his father (December, 1906) 
is an example of an early real photo card. While the law 
prevented the sender from writing on the back of the card, 
nothing prevented him from writing a message on the front.

Private mailing cards were issued until 1901 when Real Photo Postcards (referred to as RPPCs by collectors) appeared. However, messages were not permitted until March 1, 1907, when postcards were printed with a divided back. Although still being printed today, RPPCs were wildly popular between 1907-1914. If you're lucky enough to have some really old family photos, you undoubtedly have at least a few that have postcard backs. RPPCs are especially useful to family historians because they capture not only the images of our ancestors, but also of scenes familiar and important to them. In addition, these postcards often include a message helpful in identifying the photograph. Postcard writers tended to date their cards with only the month and day, if they dated them at all. However, there are ways to determine an approximate date, if not an exact date, for the card and probably for the image.

   This unmailed card of Vivian Miller (rt.)
   and a friend can be dated by the AZO
   stamp box: 4 triangles pointing up tell us
   the card was printed between 1904-1918.
   Vivian was born in 1902, so this photo
   was probably taken in 1917 or 1918.
If the card was mailed and the post mark is legible, finding the date is simple. For an unmailed RPPC, the AZO stamp box can help you determine an approximate date. (AZO refers to the type of paper Kodak used to produce RPPCs.) If the stamp box contains a triangle pointing up in each corner of the box, the card was printed between 1904-1918. If the box contains two triangles pointing up and two pointing down, the card was printed between 1918-1930. If the box contains a square in each corner, the card was printed between 1927-1940. While these are broad ranges, they can be narrowed down considerably if we know when the individual was born, as in the example at the left.

There a number of other clues on postcards, RPPC or other, which can help you date the card. For example, if you knew someone in the family was born in 1905, but didn't know when she died, finding a linen postcard written by her or to her helps you narrow her death to between 1930-1945, when linen postcards were issued.

You can learn about other clues to be found on postcards, as well as the history of postcards on a number of websites, but here are some recommendations:

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this helpful and unusual post! I have a number of photo postcards featuring family members in White Cottage.