How do you feel about postcards? Are you in the “just for vacations” camp? Do you use them as a postal equivalent to texting? Or do you not give them much thought at all?
I am totally taken in by the tiny bag of Salt Lake salt that is sewed on to the edge of this postcard from Salt Lake City, UT. I bet it was a popular tourist pick and sold well in all its gimicky glory.
In the history of postal systems, postcards are a relatively new innovation. They came into being in the 1870s and quickly became popular as a way to keep in touch, acknowledge new acquaintances, and share travel stories. By the early 1900s, postcards had become big business in the United States; in 1905, postcards were reportedly mailed at a rate of over 2,000,000 per day! Curt Teich became the first person to make a fortune off of the production of postcards with a company that transcended all four eras of postcards: the Golden Age, the White Border Era, the Linen Era, and the Chrome Era. (What? Were you not up on the fact that the humble postcard’s history was divided into eras? You know, it was news to me, too!) At the height of production the Curt Teich Company employed over 1,000 workers to run the company’s 40 postcard presses. During WWI, patriotic-themed postcards were sent by those on the homefront to soldiers who, in return, sent home postcards depicting carefully constructed, staged, and sanitized snapshots of the war. The same era saw the rise of the scantily clad woman as a popular postcard motif (though these cards were less likely to actually be sent through the post). Over the 20th century, postcards continued to play a role in correspondence and the practice of deltiology, the collection and study of postcards, really took off. In addition to appealing to collectors, historic postcards provide a fascinating glimpse into the social history, trends, changing mores, and humor of bygone eras.
Although postcards are no longer being sent at the volume they were a century ago, they shouldn’t be ignored as a way to stay in touch, reach out, and even do some good in the world. If you want to move beyond the “Greetings from…” variety of postcards, try one of these projects!
7 Postcard Projects
- Orphaned Postcard Project. PostMuse is inviting people to adopt postcards from her international collection. She’ll send you the postcard you select, then you write her a note and post it back to her.
- Adopt Penguin Books Postcards. Emilie of Winnie’s Girl was inspired by PostMuse to run her own postcard adoption program. She is sending out postcards from a collection of 100 postcards featuring the covers of Penguin Books titles. Perfect for those of you who are avid readers!
- Pet Postcard Project. A postcard project to help feed homeless pets. You create a postcard and send it in. At the end of the current campaign the postcards are tallied and the sponsor donates to the chosen animal shelter. The more postcards received, the more food and other supplies for homeless pets!
- Postcrossing. Joining this community of international postcrossers is easy and once you send a postcard, you can look forward to receiving one. To date, 9,930,321 postcards have been received thanks to this project!
- Postsecret. Started as a community art project, Postsecret has grown into a global phenomenon. Share your secret anonymously via handmade postcard.
- dawdlr. “Dawdlr is a global community of friends and strangers answering one simple question: what are you doing, you know, more generally?“ Put your answer on a postcard and join the community.
- Monday Morning Postcards. Start a personal postcard project by following in the footsteps of Tara Austen Weaver, aka Tea, and committing to write at least one postcard a week.
If you’re in the U.S. and feeling inspired to send a postcard, remember that USPS rates have just gone up. Even with the 3¢ jump on postcard stamps, it’s still a bargain to be able to make someone’s day for 32¢ and a little bit of your time. For more info on the updated USPS rates, check out The Missive Maven’s post.
Sources* for Info about the History of Postcards:
Kelly, Megan. (2009, Nov). Curt Teich. Antiques & Collecting Magazine, 114(9), 20-25. Retrieved from MasterFile Premier.
McCulloch, Ian. (1998, Apr/May). The postcard war. Beaver, 78(2), 4. Retrieved from EBSCO History Reference Center.
Oren, A. (1944, July 29). Postcard parade. Saturday Evening Post, 217(5); 24-37. Retrieved from MasterFile Premier.
*How can I afford to access these resources? Like most public libraries, mine has a virtual collection that includes access to all sorts of premium resources…all available for the cost of a library card, which is FREE. Public libraries are fantastic!
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