Deltiology, the term used for the collection and study of postcards, is thought by many to be one of the largest collectable hobbies in the world.
In order to best understand the inscriptions on the postcards, a brief background account of the U.S. formal postal rules and design of the card is necessary.
The private postal card was first developed by John P. Charlton of Philadelphia in 1861, for which he obtained the copyright and later transferred to H. L. Lipman.
These early cards, decorated with a slight border pattern and labeled “Lipman’s Postal Card, Patent Applied For,” were for sale on the market until 1873 when the first government postcards appeared.
The U.S. Postal Service issued pre-stamped postal cards in 1873. The USPS was the only one allowed to print such cards until 1898, when Congress passed the Private Mailing Card Act, which allowed private companies to produce and sell cards.
Postcards printed and sold before 1898 are generally considered to be part of the Pioneer Era. The term “Private Mailing Card” was required to be printed on all cards not issued by the United States Postal Service.
At this point, only the government was allowed to print the term “Postcard” on the back of the cards. All private printing firms used various terms, such as Souvenir Card or Mailing Cards Correspondence Cards. Postcards produced from 1898 to 1901 are considered part of the Private Mailing Card Period.
Most pre-1901 postcards are characterized by an “Undivided Back,” meaning they do not have the line going down the center of the card. By law, writing was not permitted on the address side of the postcard, and that is why messages were written across the front over the photographs or artwork on the card.
Some private postcard firms even provided a small space on the front for messages. These private mailing cards were to be posted with one-cent stamps (the same rate as governmental postals) instead of the two-cent letter rate.
The turn-of-the-century also saw the beginning of “Real Photo” postcards. These were postcards that had real photographs and were usually printed on a special stock paper.
The top postcard is an example of the address side of the private mailing era postcards. Notice that the graphic states that the card is a “ U.S. Postal Card,” and the one-cent postal stamp is actually printed on the card.
Also, notice the instruction to the sender that “Nothing But The Address Can Be Placed On This Side.” The private postal card was mailed to William Milne Esquire of Lockport, Illinois (Will County).
The bottom postcard also dates from the private mailing era. This private mailing card is typical of cards sent from banks as payment reminders. This postcard is from The Merchants’ National Bank of Chicago and is dated May 16, 1883. This private era postal card was mailed from Chicago to Lockport (Will County).
The typed card reads: “Dear sir: I have received your favor of 15 with enclosures, as stated.” The handwritten portion reads: “$174.75 to Merchants National Peoria, use Weds Canal Commissioners.” The card is signed - “Yours respectfully, C.B. Blair, President.”
More on the different postcard eras in a later column.